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A Week of First Good Summer Rains in Photos

Chad Cocking | A Week In Pictures

Hello and welcome back to another update from central Timbavati, and it has been a week of rapid change in the environment following the welcome arrival of the first good rains of the summer in the early part of the week.

Our traversing areas received between 43mm (at Tanda Tula Plains Camp) and 64mm (at Tanda Tula Safari Camp), and within days the grasses grew greener, buds burst to bequeath brilliant verdant leaves across all species of trees, and slowly colorful flowers and lilies popped up all over the show. Even in going through my images from this week, it is amazing how much drier things looked seven days ago compared to what we see whilst driving around the Timbavati at the moment! Naturally, with the rains come some of the joys of summer; tortoises, snails, and millipedes emerged all over the show, as did numerous termite alate eruptions, red velvet mites, and ants…loads and loads of ants. The sandy areas in the bush were alive with their movement, and I had to chuckle as we watched a herd of zebras one afternoon that was constantly stamping their legs as they grazed in an attempt to get the ants off their legs. With this amount of rain falling over two days, all of the small wallows and pans filled with water overnight, and the game is now spoilt for choice as to which ones to choose – it is the start of a time of plenty.

Despite a couple of days without the luxury of being able to drive off-road due to the wet soils and not wanting to damage the environment, the game was rather obliging and we got to see all of the Big 5 right on the roads during this time so that we barely felt that the temporary limitations.

Once again, the lions dominated the sightings this week, much to the dismay of the buffalos – a couple of which had far a less enjoyable week than we did. The Giraffe Pride made a return after their two-week hiatus and arrived the night of the rains and killed a buffalo bull some distance into the bush; fortunately with 23 lions on hand the pride made short work of this meal and Eric and I managed to track them down the next morning resting off their full bellies right next to the road. Fortunately, despite not being able to see the Giraffe Pride the day before, the Mayambula Pride remained in the area around Safari Camp for a couple of days after finishing off their buffalo kill and we got to see half of the pride (thirteen of 25 members – including the five remaining small cubs as sadly it appears as though one of the young ones has disappeared) as they rested in the open close to the road.

We had a couple of warm days following the rain so things dried quickly and we were soon back to normal and got to enjoy the Giraffe Pride hanging around the area of Plains Camp for another three days before they headed back south; during that time the entire pride (25, including the two males) were found with a buffalo kill at a dam less than a kilometer from camp. The pride fed on the kill for a day before moving a little south, spending the day on our boundary; will keep my fingers crossed that they don’t stray too far next week. Two of the Birmingham Breakaway males were seen over the week following one of the many buffalo herds that are using the area at the moment.

It is probably worth jumping straight into the buffalo sightings as we were well treated this week with sightings of two very large herds of buffalo in the west, as well as a couple of smaller herds in the central area.  The very large herd we saw last week appears to have split, but both fragments are still numbering well into the hundreds, and it won’t be long before these big lion pride start latching on to their movements. One moment that stood out was seeing a bull with very wide horns, not too dissimilar to our non-binary buffalo, to the point where I began telling the story of the seemingly asexual buffalo. As the big horned bull walked past, we noticed that he too had lost his testicles, and – like our non-binary friend – this had no doubt contributed to the growth of his large horns. Another buffalo bull that had also had his boy bits chewed off by lions recently had been hanging around close to our bush breakfast site this week, and we had hoped that despite his poor condition he would find the energy to move off with the big herd when it passed by, but sadly he didn’t join them. He got lucky when we had tracks for a single male lion passing within a short distance of him, but the next night a clan of hyenas finished off the job that the lions had started weeks earlier and two clans of hyenas made short work of the buffalo, leaving fat-bellied hyenas from both clans lying all over the area.

The leopards don’t require much comment this week, as they once again were AWOL and I had one solitary sighting of a slightly nervous male in the west. Nyeleti female was seen a couple of times in the central parts, but our western leopards were disappointingly absent – even when we could hear them roaring, we never managed to find them.

A little bit of me suspects that they may have morphed into giraffes, as there were giraffes everywhere at the beginning of the week, especially in the vicinity of Plains Camp where a herd of more than 30 individuals spent the first part of the week. We also came across a group of over 60 zebras in that same area to make for another week of fantastic plains game viewing in the area. The one species that was noticeably absent from this list were the elephants – following the rain, we had two days with barely a sign of these mammoths! Fortunately, as the days ticked on, several herds moved back into the area (mostly in the central and eastern sections to begin with, but later in the week they returned to the west).

The week of rains also brought with it the first reports of our “truest” indicators of summer; baby impalas and woodland kingfishers. Whilst I haven’t seen one yet, the first report of a baby impala came on the 8th of November, with the first reported woodland kingfishers heard calling on the 9th of November. There was also a report of a baby wildebeest in the east, but we wait patiently for our resident herds in the west to start dropping their young ones.

All in all, it was the first week that felt like summer, and the bush is transforming quickly. Although I am away for a few days this week, be sure to check back for an update on more sightings next week when I am sure that you will all be able to see the change in the environment from just the photos.

Until next time, Cheers!
Chad

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