Sue & Gordon's Notebook.
Winter is here, and has arrived rather suddenly. Very quickly, almost over night, the warm days and cool evenings of autumn were replaced with cold nights and early mornings and chill days especially when the wind blows. We quickly got the winter routines into place for our guests - hot water bottles on game drive and in the bed at night, as well as fires lit to warm up in the evenings on return from game drive. For those so inclined, an extra sherry or two also helps keep the body warm. If anyone reading this has a good recipe for gluhwein, please do send it to us.
The Summer migratory birds have all left for warmer regions, and those that remain behind seem to have increased in numbers especially around the Lodge. The attraction of green lawns with lots of extra nutrients creates this influx, and we see many more hornbills and other species around. The crimson breasted shrikes, so vivid in colour are back, and always such a pleasure to photograph.
Our pair of Egyptian Geese, which are not migratory, do however leave us in May each year, presumably for somewhere warmer, usually returning in October to breed. In our last newsletter, we included a photo of the proud parents with six very small youngsters. Remarkably, they all survived to adulthood.
Hats off to this breeding pair for raising all of their youngsters and not loosing any to the servals, genets, caracals, hyenas or jackals in the area, all of whom would have delighted in catching a fresh goose dinner!
Lastly on birds, we have a pair of barn owls breeding in the thatch roof of our house at the Lodge. At night, you see the parents fly off on their hunting trips, inevitably returning with a field mouse for their offspring. The evidence of regurgitated pellets on the front deck of our house in the morning is proof of their success, as well as the audible joyous welcome the parents get from their chicks when they return to the nest with supper. Sadly, owls often end up as "road kills" at night, and we all have a responsibility to be a little more careful and caring when driving at night. These birds are such an important part of the eco-system, and need to be protected.
Guests visiting the underground Hide at The Bush House have had some amazing sightings and experiences. Using our webcam, the pictures below illustrate what you can view just metres in front of you in the safety of the underground Hide. You need patience, as these sightings do not happen on demand. We often advise guests to take a good book and sit in the comfort of the hide, and see what comes along.
The large pack of African Wild Dogs, having successfully hunted around the Lodge in the early evening, stopped in to check out the waterhole that night, right in front of the underground Hide.
Quietly, and without fuss, the old Buffalo bull came and drank in front of the hide. These old bulls, no longer moving with the Buffalo herd, are called "dagga boys" and are usually very bad tempered and highly dangerous if confronted by humans. Although wild animals may smell a human presence in the underground hide, the fact that they cannot see you in the normal upright human stance "confuses" them, and providing you are quiet and do not make sudden movements, will allow you a completely natural and up-close encounter in complete safety.
To see a Giraffe drink is an amazing experience at a distance, yet alone to have one drinking right in front of you. The process they have to follow because of their height to get down to water level and drink is really special to witness.
And to top it all off, without fuss or fanfare, this cheetah quietly came in for a drink right in front of the Hide in the late afternoon. The Reserve currently has a coalition of four male cheetahs and this single male that moves on his own. Females will soon be introduced, and hopefully this will ensure the survival of wild cheetahs in Madikwe for years to come.
In the African bush, something you learn quickly is to "listen to the bush", and what it is telling you. As humans, we have senses of sight, hearing, smell, and it is not always the obvious one of sight that leads us to find animals. Birds "alarm calling" tell us that there is something close by that they are unhappy about. It could be a bird of prey, a snake, or anything else that they are afraid of.
If it were not for the guineafowl alarm calling at the waterhole, we would never have noticed the spotted hyena drinking, so well camoflaged next to the concrete of the water inlet.
We had noticed another spotted hyena drinking at night on the far side of the waterhole. What happened next was a complete surprise, and unfortunately too quick to get a picture of.
The hyena seemed unusually nervous, and was continually checking to the left, to the right, and behind it. Next thing, there was a growl, and we saw this lioness come "flying" in from the right of the waterhole. The hyena took off at a terrific rate, and fortunately for the hyena, the lioness decided not to follow through, but rather stop for a drink.
Lions generally do not kill other predators for food, but because they are competition for the same food source. They will therefore try to eliminate all other predators in their territory. Although Lions are obviously a favourate for guests, the Reserve has to manage the lion population, because at the end of the day, altough a very large Reserve, Madikwe is a fenced area, and too many lions will result in fewer or no other predator species being seen.
We get a special "kick" when seeing large wild animals interacting together at the same time at the waterhole. Elephants are known for being particularly intolerant of any other species at the waterhole when they are drinking. They will come in and chase off zebras, wildebeest, impalas and anything else simply because they are bigger, and because "they can!"
Recently one morning, elephants had taken over control as usual when this old "dagga boy" decided he too wanted to come in for a drink. The elephants "checked him out" as can be seen in the first pic., but decided that maybe he was too much trouble, or too aggresive, to worry about chasing off. Eventually, both the elephants and the old buffalo settled down, and drank water together.
Again, perhaps because of the height advantage of the giraffe, the elephants and giraffe just watched each other for a while, and then without fuss carried on about their own business.
Wherever you are, and whatever you are doing, look after yourselves, and we hope to see you soon!
Gordon & Sue