Shifting light and changing seasons each leave their unique mark on the wild, allowing nature’s ever-changing wonders to unfold and adapt to the demands of the climate. Now in July, cool and dry, we yet again witness winter taking its course on the Lowveld.
The enormous amount of rainfall received during the summer months, which I reported on in March, directly influences our winter weather. Higher rainfall leads to increased soil moisture and cooler temperatures, while drier summers result in slightly higher temperatures during the winter. Fortunately, this year we’ve had ample rainfall, resulting in saturated grounds and lush green vegetation in the lower areas, which also means the vegetation has been greener for somewhat longer.
Despite the abundant moisture from the preceding months, the trees have now responded to the changes in reduced light by shedding their leaves. This instinctive act serves as a protective measure to prevent excessive water loss through transpiration. However, certain plant species have evolved to thrive under diverse conditions. Aloes and other succulent herbs continue to flourish, showcasing vibrant orange and yellow flowers that attract nectar-feeding Sunbirds. Our garden aloes have become a haven for Scarlet-chested Sunbirds, while the common waterlilies on our seasonal ponds attract various species of butterflies.
During the day, web-weaving spiders tent out every corner with their delicate, silky structures. Among them are the Golden Orb Web Spiders, a common sight in winter. Interestingly, we still encounter active night spiders, particularly Bark spiders. They construct intricate webs from branch to branch across the roads, spinning their webs at night when they need to hunt and taking a well-deserved break for a few days thereafter.
We have also observed a change in termite mounds, as their chimneys now slant more towards the north. Most of the construction occurs after dark, considering the termites’ vulnerability to UVA rays. At night, these industrious creatures emerge from their mounds, creating a faint clicking sound as they cut their way through the vegetation with their mandibles, making their presence known to potential predators like the White-tailed Mongoose, Civet and illusive Aardvark.
On the mammalian front, we have witnessed an increase in the number of giraffes and zebras making their way to our plains, along with large herds of buffalo and elephants congregating around waterholes and rivers. As the dry season takes hold, water sources dwindle and animals are forced to gather around those that remain, which usually results in the re-emergence of visible game paths. The influx and concentration of prey, combined with the allure of large herds, naturally attracts predators to the area. This sets the perfect scene for intense predator-prey interaction, often in abundance during this time of year.
Among the predators, we have been fortunate to encounter two new dark-maned male lions, possibly originating from the Kruger area. Two lionesses with five cubs have also made a guest appearance on the northern side of our traversing area and two male lions from the Black Dam, accompanied by the Nkuhuma Pride, have also been spotted finding solace in our expansive open areas.
Many bird species have migrated to the northern regions in search of more favourable climatic conditions, given the hibernation of insects, frogs and reptiles, which has made food scarce. Birds such as the Lilac-breasted Roller, Brown-hooded Kingfisher, Woolly-necked Storks, Saddle-billed Storks, African Jacanas, Blacksmith Lapwings, Egyptian Geese, Southern-ground Hornbills and many others continue to roam the area. We have also been treated to sightings of various raptors, drawn to the ample kills which we’ve encountered. Buffalo Pan and Djuma Dam now harbour a population of catfish that migrated from the mainstream rivers of the Kruger National Park during the overflow, which means that we can soon expect the arrival of African Fish Eagles in the area— a brilliant sight to behold.
In terms of tracking, the absence of dense vegetation, combined with the fine sand on our roads and river crossings, preserves a diverse array of tracks, allowing us to trace creatures both large and small. Marked territories, thanks to the lack of rainfall, also endure for longer periods, increasing the territoriality of different species which each mark their own in unique ways. Rhino bulls tend to mark their territory by spraying urine on freshly raked soil and then dragging their feet across as they continue to do so. Hippos follow suit by combining their dung, typically marking small bushes and leaving a lingering strong scent. Male lions tend to mark shrubs and trees as their scent posts, accompanied by distinctive loud roars which echo through the air.
Despite the chill and muted landscape, winter brings to life the raw essence of the wilderness— untamed, primal, regal. There is no better time than this to be in the wild.