The most exciting part in our ecosystem is the noticeable weather shifts that brings about seasonal change in our environment. The change in seasons has a great effect on wildlife and other biotic and abiotic factors, as well as, on animal behaviour, making the four seasons the most integral part of the the bush and safari experience.

 

SEASONAL UPDATE FROM OUR HEAD GUIDE
        

Going into the winter months we have some interesting scenes…

Impala antelope have entered their yearly rutting season and we have been hearing a lot of loud snorts in the morning, making our mornings more entertaining!

April, May and June are peak mating season for most antelope species, the likes of Steenbuck, Kudu, Nyala, Waterbuck and mammals like Warthogs, Rhino and now even Elephant are mating! These are rare and wonderful sightings. 

Baby elephant Photo Credit: Sipps Maswanganyi

Photo Credit: Sipps Maswanganyi

During May we recorded the highest rainfall in the history of the Sabi Sand reserve, with 66.3mm. With very late rains we also have a very late onset of the winter. 

Typical of colder months the changes are evident in the reserve’s vegetation.

Whilst on daily drives you will see grounds get drier due to the drop in rainfall and the trees constantly losing leaves, which makes our bush views much more clear. What is interesting is the trees on active termite mounds remain greener due to the fact the termites still provide water for those plants found growing on their mound systems. It’s quite clear to see this when on a game drive, the termitariums are more visible as they stand out against the much duller vegetation as winter starts to set in. 

Members of arachnids have pitched and tented their webs across the entire biome. The misty mornings turns this beautiful form of architecture into shiny silverware… spider webs are all beautifully designed and when caught up on a ray of light they are undoubtedly the most attractive form of art! Most of the web-weaving spiders hunt on flying insects by trapping them on their arial webs, of those spiders that are equipped with venom, they will use their poison to paralyze their prey before they feed on them. Most web-weaving spiders aren’t actually venomous, as they rely on their web to capture and secure their prey, whilst most of the free-range spiders are.

Cheetah Plains Spider

Photo Credit: Sipps Maswanganyi

Due to the cold temperatures and with the food items mostly diminishing, most of our migratory birds have packed their bags to fly north – Woodlands Kingfishers, European Swallows, European bee-eaters, the most attractive Southern Carmine Bee-eater, as well as, Wahlberg’s Eagle and other iconic birds have disappeared.

What’s left for us then? 

The most attractive and colourful birds like Lilac-breasted Roller, Little Bee-eater, Crested Barbet, Pied kingfisher, Orange-breasted Bushshrike and the common family of hornbills and iridescent Glossy Starlings – they all definitely stand out and paint the vegetation with vibrant colours.

So, it’s never as dull as it may sound its always beautiful in its unique and natural ways.  

Troupant Bird, Lilac-breasted roller, Photo Credit: Sipps Maswanganyi

Photo Credit: Sipps Maswanganyi

The game viewing experience also gets better as the bush habitats become much clearer. 

Very soon animals will start migrating to the big dams in search of water and this behaviour will make it easier for us to predict their movements. As grass plants become drier – Buffalo, Waterbuck, Wildebeest and Zebra will need to drink a lot of water a day and migratory routes will be re-established and used effectively. The temporal migratory game paths are then used by other game species. Larger predators like lions and leopard, will be ambushing many of these animals en-route, therefore predator/prey relationship will also be significantly increased. As a result, winter becomes the best season to spot and watch wildlife. We spot animals in winter more than we are able to in summer. 

Most antelope species and other grass eaters will be weaker due to low energy resource, making it easier for the big cats to catch them. Lions will also start to hunt from waterholes, where most of the animals will likely go to drink. There will be a lot of interactions out there that are always thrilling and entertaining to watch! 

During the drier season, we are also able to track animals easier as it seldom rains. With the dusty grounds and soft sand on road surfaces it makes it easier for us to see animal tracks. As guides and trackers we take great pleasure in tracking smaller game such as millipedes, scorpions, mice, and other elusive specimens we don’t often get to see.

Night drives are interesting in winter as we are able to see smaller animals under a spotlight. The likes of Bushbabies, Owls, Genets, African Wild Cats and White-tailed Mongoose are more prominent.

The best part of winter is that the night sky is crystal clear; we can see the Milky Way galaxy, filled with its famous constellations with a naked eye.

Our Southern cross constellation is so clear, umbrellaed by Centaurus, followed by Lupus, Scorpio and even Sagittarius still aiming his arrow at the Antares… its pretty beautiful!

Orion is slowing setting on the western horizon, with his big dog (Canis Major) running down after him. Taurus has been grazing behind the Northern Drakensberg mountains that we see in the distance from Cheetah Plains, with Gemini, Cancer and Leo still roaming on the north-western sky. The star Sirius and Achenar have been predominantly shining brightest on the South-western horizon. The Coal Sac on the Southern Cross is clearly visible on the dark nights, with other famous clusters and galaxies well presented all over the sky. These beautiful celestial bodies make our night game drives amazing!!

Our winter season is generally much colder as the sunlight intensity drops, so the dress code will also change for your safari experience. We have started using our heated seats, a feature installed on our game viewing vehicles and hot water-bottles and blankets, keeping it warm and comfortable throughout the morning and when there is a dip in the temperature at night.   

The days are generally cooler and we are able to do more activities like walking safaris in-between drives

That’s all from Cheetah Plains this season.  See you all soon in Spring.

Sipps Maswangani – Head Guide