Honey coloured mornings and dark orange sunsets, along with cool evenings, covered with stars above – this is the start of winter. Presently driving out in the early mornings is a sensory experience, as the cold air brushes across your hands and face, the bush smell is herbaceous and fresh and the sound of rutting impalas echoes through the valleys. There is high moisture content in the air that leaves the bush blanketed in anticipation for the sun to evaporate the droplets off every stem and stalk. Long grass stalks full of seeds bend uneasily with water droplets weighing them down. Looking towards the sunrise in the early morning the open grasslands resemble soft snow upon the grass fields with the white refection. Looking west, the golden colour adorns the bushveld like a blanket warming it from a cold night.
Here’s a highlights package of the month’s sightings:
Lions: The Mhangene pride that usually dominates our sightings for lions has been rather scarce this month. A brief interaction with their now adult offspring, which consists of six lionesses, resulted in a hasty retreat quite far west. We have been fortunate enough with occasional sightings of the large pride on our western boundary. Fortunately, the three remaining Majingilane male lions continue to move through the area along with the Othawa pride.
Leopards: It has been another active month for leopard sightings. The Hlab’Nkunzi female leopard continues to keep us in awe of how habituated she is to our presence. Respecting her space with her cub and making sure we are never impeding on her personal space with the viewing of her and the little cub has rewarded us with some incredible sightings. The young cub is a male and approximately five months old. A relative newcomer that has been sighted regularly this month is the Torchwood male leopard. This male leopard originated west of Singita and has explored further east of his normal territorial grounds. On a few occasions we have seen him in close proximity of the N’weti male leopard and the Nyelethi male leopard who are in search of territorial ground. This would represent an expansion of territory for the Nyelethi male leopard, and it continues to be nomadic patrols of new land for the N’weti male. We are hoping that expansion of territory is a permanent move for the Torchwood male leopard.
Elephants: Large herds have congregated in the central areas and often have fragmented by the afternoon into satellite groups moving in their independent directions. As we enter the dry season, a pattern of movement that we might expect would be for elephant herds to spend the warm part of the day feeding on the still green Phragmites in the bed of the Sand River, and then moving onto higher, warmer ground as the chill of early evening sets in.
Buffaloes: A few smaller groups of buffalo have been viewed north of the river, but with the almost unlimited water availability in the area, the larger herds continue to move over vast distances in an unpredictable manner.
Hyenas: Currently hyena sightings have been prominent within view of the leopards and their hoisted impala carcasses. As most predators are taking full advantage of the preoccupied impala males rutting, the hyenas are always on the outskirts awaiting their share of food. Patience is a virtue, and sometimes hyenas will spend hours or even days waiting for a morsel of food to be dropped by a leopard feeding on its prize in the safety of a tree. Of course, hyenas that arrive on the scene quickly enough will often steal a freshly killed impala from a leopard before the leopard has been able to hoist it into a tree.