Sunday, 18 December 2011

Why bushveld summers rock! Kruger cont...

The woodlands and the fly

The past few days have been very quiet on the cat front, but have provided me with some wonderful reasons as to why, despite this, I absolutely love summer here in the bush.

New Romance

Two days ago, the day began at 2am for me when a huge crack of light shot me straight up in my bed. It was pouring with rain outside, thunder periodically bellowing, and to say I was nervous would be an understatement. Fortunately I was so tired that I did fall asleep again, and when I woke at 4am to make coffee for the drive, the thunder had stopped. Shortly after leaving the gate however, the heavens again opened, and it rained so hard I could barely see where I was going. Highly unlikely many cats would be about in this weather, but one of the reasons I love summer in the bushveld is the rain. When it rains like this, and soaks the earth, saturating every donga and gully, and creating new streams on every side. When the rain stops, everything springs to life. The earth smells beautiful and damp, the birds begin to call, and young animals race around, reveling in the water and the sun as it peeks out from behind the clouds. I did find a  pack of hyena who were arguing over an old Wildebeest skeleton as the rain stopped. They were very nervous, and kept moving along the road, looking over their shoulders. 

Hyena with the 'prize' in motion

A new marsh formed by the storm

The usually shy bushbuck

Another bad spell for the frogs!

Preening hoopoo

Young waterbuck at sunset

Playful zebras after the rain

"and then..." said the demented zebra to the terrified oxpecker.

In summer, the bush comes alive with bird song. The Woodlands Kingfishers arrive, and begin their shrill calls, and displaying their wings at every other kingfisher they see. These little birds are a delight to watch, and the past few days I got a couple of opportunities to photograph them in good light. I have never really spent the best light on birds, but this time I did, enjoying watching their movement, and the colours of their wings.

One unmistakable bird, at any time of the year, is the Spurfowl. These birds are always heard, their unmelodious calls giving you a fright as you disturb them while driving. In the early morning they love to sit high on dead trees, welcoming the morning. They do the same before storms. They can be used to alert yourself to the presence of a predator when you hear their alarm calls, however they are quite unreliable, as they alarm at many things - you know what they say about a bird brain.

Another call that makes me think of summer is that of the Red Crested Khorhaan. They have a distinctive call, and it can be heard throughout the bush as you drive, a sort of whistle, interspersed with clicks. I found one standing on a termite mound and calling for all the world (really just me and any potential lady friends) to see. They open their beaks as wide as possible, and stick their tongues up, making them quite photogenic especially in good light

The arrival of the huge flocks of queleas also signals the arrival of summer. And their wing beats as thousands of them take off and land as one can be heard from quite a distance, as can their chattering calls. What amazes me most is how none of them appear to collide in their frantic flight. Birds are really a mystery!

After the heavy rains of two days ago, the termite mounds began erupting, with hundreds of potential queens sent out into the world on flimsy wings which only last for a short flight. The idea is that they are released when the ground has been softened by the rain, and, finding a mate, burrow into the ground and attempt to start a colony of their own. One landed in my car, a fat queen, never to fulfill her destiny. The birds cannot resist this feast, their plump bodies a nutrious fatty meal. All along the road sides, Go- Away- Birds, Eagles, Hawks, Spurfowl, Mongooses, Monkeys and others gathered to pick up the floundering termites. I had to drive quite carefully to avoid a massacre! Every day on the S100 road, I have seen a very skittish Brown Hooded Kingfisher who disappears the second I stop my car. With this feast, he couldn’t resist returning time and again to the road to gorge himself, so I finally managed to tie him down for long enough to take a shot! I had actually driven to the area I had seen him in on purpose, in the hope that he would oblige me.

Baboon looking FAR too human for my liking.

Yesterday I witnessed something extremely special, which I have never before seen. The rains and the onset of summer signal the arrival of all the summer babies. The past three weeks, I have seen numerous new faces, Impala calves, Steenbok calves, Giraffe babies and more recently the Wildbeest began to arrive. Yesterday I was privileged enough to watch one arrive.

The babies legs began slowly emerged from behind the Wildebees mother, covered in slime and there they stopped, as she heaved away, changing position, kneeling, lying flat, all the while her stomach muscles clenching as she tried to get the calf out. The rest of the small herd were quite curious, often nuzzling her, or sniffing at the unborn calfs feet. When the baby was about half way out, she turned around, so I could only watch the heaving and her facial expression before I saw a tiny head slip out, and stare in bewilderment at the world around it. The harsh midday sun must have been quite a shock to eyes which had never before seen light.  Another calf which had been lying next to the birthing mother stared at it, unsure as to whether it had been there before, and with that the baby wildbeest met the first other member of his family.  He sat blinking for a few minutes, covered in slime and dirt before trying to lift himself onto wobbly legs. Knowing how long it takes a human child to gain any control of their TWO legs, it is amazing that this calf gained any control of his FOUR! He fell forward with the first attemp, backwards with the second, The third try he managed to walk a few steps before one of the stick- like legs gave way and he again collapsed to the ground. His mother nuzzled him gently, encouraging him, as the other calf stared on. 

Hello bright world

A few minutes of trying and he had finally gained some control, and although he was clearly top heavy, he could attempt to follow his mother. Well, more accurately who he thought was his mother - a young male wildebeest who was rather confused by the sudden ‘affection’ of the calf. His actual mother trailed behind him, affectionately nibbling his bum, trying to clean off the afterbirth and get his attention. A few more falls, and nudges and he worked out who his real mother was and began to suckle. It was pure magic, so very special and although the photo’s cannot do any justice to the moment, as the light was harsh, other wildebeest kept walking in the way, and my hands were shaking, still, they represent one of the most precious moments ever. Soon the calf was walking around, more or less at ease, as his mother paced back and forth, presumably encouraging him to move and strengthen his legs for the trials of life which wait for no man (or beast). He will need lots of strength and a little luck to survive, but God certainly gave him the best opportunity, being born so fully developed, into a herd, with an almost immediate ability to run!

Tentative legs

A gentle nudge in the right direction

I can (almost) walk!

These reasons and many more are why I love summer in the bush. Yes, viewing may be easier in winter, and photography may be better with fewer intruding grasses or leaves, but in the summertime the bush comes alive.

Impala near Shingwedzi, my new home

Self portrait for those of you that have forgotten what I look like :) 

A coucal with his newly- hatched termite

1 comment:

  1. Laura, could I pm you on the sanparks forum - I have close friends going up to the Kruger on Thursday and they are keen to find the hyaena den - Indiajane