< back to Back Issues list
Newsletter Winter 2006
Winter settled in fast this year.
Autumn, squeezed between the late rains of a lingering summer and the sharp chill of winter mornings, was reduced to a week of breathtakingly clear, crisp and still days. Then the night-time temperatures dropped dramatically and winter moved in, confirming its arrival with coating of frost each morning on the rapidly browning grass. The migrant birds, procrastinating after the late rains, all left in rush, circling briefly over the reserve before vanishing northwards. Now, as each gust of wind causes a confetti storm of leaves, warm fires flicker in the suites and the main lodge is closed up at night to keep it cosy and warm.
As cool as the nights are, the days are still warm and clear, only the occasional cloud sails across the cobalt sky. As the earth dries out, cantering zebra and the herds of elephants shuffling across the plains thrown clouds of red dust into the air. The dust hangs in the still air, filtering the sunlight to create breathtaking, quintessentially African sunsets.
Gradually the grass is dropping, making it easier to see species that have been hidden by the thick, tall grass for some time. Caracal, civet, genet, aardwolf and aardvark have all become easier to spot now, making nocturnal game viewing very interesting!
Winter is the best time to see the smaller birds around the lodge. These little guys are always here, bouncing merrily through the bushes, but in summer their bigger, flashy cousins, like the kingfishers and Bee-eaters, tend to steal all the attention.
In winter many of the larger species leave the reserve and the thinner vegetation makes the smaller species much easier to see.
Although they have to compete for attention with the spectacular crimson-breasted shrike and the quirky crested barbet, these little guys are beautiful and fascinating to watch.
If you sit quietly, somewhere where the birds are able to settle to drink, you are soon surrounded by a fascinating variety of species. The violet-eared waxbill, green-winged pytilia, grey backed camaroptera, tawny-flanked prinia and white throated robin-chat are all very common around the lodge, their names far longer than these tiny birds will ever be! The birds come in a huge variety of shapes and colours, but all are perfect, looking like they have just been hand-painted with a fine brush.
The birds all drink and feed together, completely tolerant of all the other birds feeding with them, dodging between the crested francolin legs and generally ignoring their friends and neighbours.
Then suddenly one tiny bird will launch itself at another, yelling abuse in their sharp little language. The pair fight briefly until one flies off, the other in hot pursuit. What could cause such a tiny beast, after ignoring all the other identical birds around him, to suddenly show such intense dislike for another one in particular?
As tiny as they are, their lives are clearly complex and involved.
Mating, food supply and territory all combine to create behaviour not dissimilar to the behaviour of animals at the opposite end of the size scale.
Head Guides report
In the absence of our Dylan our head guide (who on leave at the moment), I'll give an update on what is happening game-wise in the reserve at the moment:
We have four lionesses that are usually found very close to the lodge.
These are the Moselasela female, two of her older daughters, the Kwena females, and a younger daughter, the Mopipi female. Recently these females have been doing an excellent job of pulling the wool over our eyes.
We knew from previous sightings that one of the females had four young cubs and we were trying to figure out whether the cubs belonged to one of the Kwena females or the Moselasela female herself (both appeared to be lactating).
Recently the Mopipi lioness brought down an adult wildebeest right in front of Dylan and his guests on an early morning drive. All four females quickly tucked in, but seemed distracted and kept leaving the kill.
Eventually they called the cubs out from their hiding place under a nearby bush to join the kill.
Rather than the expected four cubs ambling out, eight youngsters appeared, proving that both the Moselasela and the Kwena females have youngsters!
The elephants have moved away from Krokdrift for now and they are spending most of their time in the Tsukudu Dam area, where we regularly see them drinking. This is fairly typical for this time of year, they usually move back to our neck of the woods towards the end of winter.
The young female leopard north of the Madikwe Plains is still giving us some brilliant viewing, on one occasion almost strolling in and joining Dylan and his guests where they had stopped for sundowners. She is very relaxed and confident and provides excellent photographic opportunities.
The coalition of three male cheetah are also still often seen, usually in the vicinity of the southern end of the Madikwe Plains. Drives from the lodge have seen them on kills several times in the last few weeks.
The young male that was spending so much time close to the lodge has unfortunately moved to the other side of the river for the time being, probably because of the high density of lions around the lodge recently.
The hippo are spending much of their time close to the lodge at the moment, frequently walking down the lodge paths after sunset, much to the distress of David and the other security guards. The local hippo pod may also have a new youngster now, a tiny baby has been seen several times with itís mother on the plains behind the lodge.
The wild dog seem to have been particularly mobile in the last few weeks and are difficult to keep up with! They have not been very close to the lodge, but have still provided us with some excellent viewing in more central areas of the reserve.
Our old friends the Bat-eared foxes have finally been seen again on the Krokodildrift plain now that the grass is thinning out.
The local springhares are also very visible again and are now more relaxed near vehicles, allowing some excellent viewing of these unusual characters. The jackals are also very much in evidence now, they are in the middle of their breeding season and their distinctive howls compete all night for airtime against the lion roars.
The Bulia male lion coalition is spending much of their time in our area, clearly still with the intention of establishing a territory that includes this area. The three males are fast growing into beautiful adults
The Batias, the dominant lion coalition, also still make regular visits, roaring and scent-marking their way past the lodge, so they are clearly not yet ready to relinquish their ground here yet!
There is still a small herd of buffalo on Krokodildrift, they are spending most of their time in the thicker bush south of the lodge, so we donít see them that often, but every now and then we find them drinking at the waterhole next to the sleep-out hide.
The red-billed queleas have formed huge, noisy flocks in the reserve at the moment. They fly, literally in their thousands, to communal roosts each evening and back out to feed each morning.
This creates seemingly endless streams of birds at sunrise and sunset that look like clouds of smoke from a distance.
In contrast to the fairly windy and noisy nights of summer, winter nights tend to be still and almost completely silent. One night recently we heard lions fighting, their frantic chorus of growls and roars carrying through the chilly silence.
They sounded really close, so we went to investigate. (Thatís the other thing about winter nights Ė the sound travels much further and things are really much further away than they sound. They were not that close, what sounded like 500 meters away turned out to be at least two kilometres!)
Eventually we found the lions involved. The three Bulia males were walking through the grass, all looking a little worse for wear. For some reason, the males had moved too close to the four local lionesses and their cubs. Anyone who knows the Moselasela female would know the three males would come off second best in such an encounter. The Moselasela has something of a short fuse and she would not allow anything too close to her youngsters - not vehicles, people or anything else and certainly not insolent young lions looking for trouble.
The males were looking very sorry for themselves and not a little sheepish, having been given a severe hiding by a female. None of the wounds looked particularly serious, one male had gashes and scratches on his face and they all had scratches and punctures on their hindquarters Ė a particularly embarrassing injury given that it has to be inflicted during retreat!
Seeing the sorry state of the males, we wanted to find the females and check that none of them, or the cubs, had been injured. We switched off the vehicle to listen where they might be. At first, there did not seem to be anything anywhere near us.
But slowly, sound by sound, creatures revealed themselves. The dry grass amplifies every movement and in the silence, a rustle of grass can sound like thunder. A hopping mouse sounds like a springhare, a springhare sounds as big as an impala and an impala makes as much noise as a clumsy spotted hyena.
The hyenas sound like rhinos crunching through the undergrowth and the rhinos would probably sound like a herd of elephants, but we didnít see any elephants to compare! We did see all the other species though, the quiet wait provided a wealth of game viewing.
We did not find the lionesses in the end, although we have seen them several times since then and they are all in excellent health!
Here is a sample of what the kitchen is creating to keep winter at bay:
Sweet Potato and Coconut Soup
A hearty and delicious soup with a tropical twist.
Tempura Prawns with a Soy and Ginger dressing.
Succulent prawns with a Thai-style dressing Ė delicious!
Impala Fillet with herbed Potato Puree and Turla Turla, drizzled with a Red Wine Jus
The flavour of the impala is perfectly complimented by the turla turla and the jus in this rich, tasty main course
Roasted Chermola Chicken nestled on a Pumpkin Risotto cake, with steamed Asparagus and Red Pepper Sauce
Fresh ingredients and terrific spices create an unforgettable dish
Apple Tarte Tatin with Amarula Ice Cream.
Unbeatable on a winter evening!
Donít leave us to enjoy all this on our own Ė come and join us!