October is the month that slowly waves goodbye to the dry season and paves the way for the much-anticipated rains to begin falling from the skies, and this year was no different. We received close to 90 mm in the space of a week which saw the concession change shape virtually overnight. The burnt areas caused by the fires in September set the scene for a mesmerising transformation, with the new lime-green shoots replacing and covering the blackened earth. All the terminalias and combretumssprouted new leaves, turning the landscape from a place of dry hardship, to a lush green Eden. Many of the trees and the shrubs are fully dressed in their floral spring attire and their perfumes linger in the air and arouse your olfactory senses as you drive or walk past them, especially that of the purple cluster pod, that are plentiful in the concession and are attracting the attention of a number of butterflies, bees and even flies. Wildflowers also break up the hundred different shades of green painting the grounds. Views that were previously expansive and dry are now coated with impenetrable brush cover, providing sanctuary and shade to the full-bellied ruminants that seek their shelter during the ever-warming days.
The animals seemed to feel the relief too. Heavily pregnant impalas seem to gain condition virtually overnight. Their swollen bellies and relaxed demeanour indicate the relief, caused by the replenished water and new food sources. This certainly is a time of plenty as the area is providing superb grazing and browsing for all. Massive breeding herds of elephant have been spotted feeding and wallowing in the seasonal pans, and herds of hundreds of zebras are making full use of the fresh new grass shoots in the previously charred northern regions.
The majority of our migrant bird species have returned and made themselves at home, feasting on the insect eruption that followed the rain. Butterflies, groundlings and dragonflies carpet the tree canopies and floor, giving it a feeling of being that much more alive, and in the evenings fireflies light up the night sporadically like shooting stars. We are expecting the impalas to lamb a bit earlier this year following an early rutting season and favourable rains received last year. Soon our concession will transform once again into a nursery for most mammals. It really is the time of plenty!
Here’s a Sightings Snapshot for October:
With the hardened ground after the rain, evidence of lions in some regions became trickier to monitor, as their tracks left little to no impressions on the ground, but there was no doubt that the great felids still made their presence known, by calling most mornings and evenings. We have also been finding evidence of their feeding. These are the following groups/prides of lions that were seen this month.
The Mountain Pride has been sighted on multiple occasions, and are now fifteen lions strong, with three sets of different aged cubs (nine cubs in total). They were spotted in fantastic condition, with full bellies after feeding on a wildebeest.
Shish Pride who frequent the area around the lodge have been maintaining their stronghold, by frequent vocalization and their sheer presence. They were seen feeding on a wildebeest who was the defending territorial male wildebeest of that region for over a year. They often choose to spend the heat of the day in close proximity to our water sources to remain hydrated and increase their hunting opportunities as most general game made their way down towards the river to drink. Most of the cubs that had visibly developed sarcoptic mange have recovered and are in good health.
The remaining Kumana Male was seen trailing the Shish lionesses, by using his olfactory senses as well as contact calls to track them down and, on another occasion, was sighted with the lionesses and cubs, having successfully reunited.
One of the Shishangaan Males was seen on the western boundary of the concession on multiple occasions, often trailing the buffaloes that are constantly moving in and out of that area. He was alone and his brothers (including Xihamham) have not been sighted this month.
The elusive and seldom seen Northern Pride were sighted in the North, with cubs and sub-adults present.
The Southern Pride too was seen earlier in the month, with its large composition of young males and females playing harmoniously.
The thick coverage and presence of lions seem to make locating these elusive cats even more challenging. However, spending a lot of time on foot this month and finding tracks almost daily shows us they are very much still around!
A beautiful relaxed male was spotted lying in the lush green grasses, a stone’s throw away from the road. He later playfully stalked a herd of impala then retreated back into a cool shady spot.
The staff were treated to a sighting of a large male on the H6, on the way to work one morning. They watched as this relaxed cat scent-marked and walked down the road towards the lodge.
This time of the year usually doesn’t yield too many sightings of cheetah, due to the thicker overgrowth and longer grasses brought about by the rains, which is not the ideal habitat for these cats, which in turns causes them to head further south to more open area. However, regardless of the reduced time spent out on the concession, we were lucky to have two sighting of these slender yet majestic cats which were:
An adult male cheetah who was seen heading in a northly direction from the H6, walking with intent and purpose.
A young female who was seen attempting to hunt impalas within the concession. Although her efforts were fruitless her determination was inspiring.
We host a large population of hyenas in the concession and surrounding areas, their presence is seen and heard from the lodges, staff villages and within the reserve. Their tracks paint the roads and game trails and their Halloween howls and laughs can be heard at night and early mornings.
We have had multiple sightings on our way to and from the staff village. The clan to the west of the staff village has newborn, bear-like cubs. They have been seen around the rest of the clan, and their curious nature overrides their fear of us and the vehicles.
Several hyena clans and individuals have been spotted all around the concession.
The movement of elephant was slow during the rainy and cold days, but the warmth and humidity that followed later in the month saw a massive influx of these grey giants into the concession. We have been seeing herds of more than thirty individuals almost daily, with small aggregations of bulls, varying from young adults to enormous tuskers, gently manoeuvring their way through the lush landscape.
With all the seasonal pans filling up after the rain, the need for migration to and from water has diminished substantially. However, as a result of the amount of rain that has transformed the burnt areas in the northern part of our concession to green pastures, buffalo herds of large numbers have been seen moving into those areas to sample the nutrient-rich grasses that have risen from the ashes. Other smaller groups have also been seen, including six big old bulls that were grumpy on arrival, only for us to see the fresh evidence of being harassed by lions in the night, with a few new scars that they wore like tattoos on their rumps as their only souvenir of the encounter.
The flush of new grass growth and the shooting of new leaves has seen large aggregations of zebra and kudu move into the concession.
Klipspringers have been seen pinging around the ridges and cliffs, them too taking advantage of the new-found greenery.
There have been countless giraffe sightings this month, with young calves frolicking around the adults, and journeys of over fifteen individuals are becoming commonplace.
Rare animals and other sightings
African wild dogs have frequented the concession on a few occasions. Their tracks have printed the grounds in areas we least expected, which is really exciting! A pack of five and another two were seen on a few occasions. Let’s hope they stick around and take full advantage of the bounty within the concession.
A lonely serval was seen bouncing through the grass on an early misty morning.
A pair of ostriches have chosen to nest in the Central Depression, with both parents seen taking turns incubating the five eggs that have been expertly concealed in the grass. This is new to us and something very exciting to follow!
We took it as a challenge to surpass the record number of birds seen in October in previous years which stood at 206 for 2018. We have seen many migrants arrive early, allowing us to surpass this record and finish the month on a record 210 species. Lovely sightings of the more colourful species including grey-headed kingfisher and broad-billed roller were enjoyed, while the ever-increasing number of water birds added to the tally for the month.