Putting "pen to paper" as we write this newsletter update on 2nd January, 2013, is at a very special time of the year, having just come out of the Festive Season. For us, this a great time shared with families, with all the joy of celebration, giving and receiving of gifts, etc..
Our Christmas tree in the lounge at the Lodge is unusual, in that we use a dead thorn tree as "the tree", and decorate it in a traditional way with a bush twist.
The fact that the thorn tree is dead is an "environmentally friendly" gesture on our part, as it is locally known as sickle bush and is an undesirable invasive species found in the Reserve. The best sickle bush is a dead one!
Early to mid-Summer (this time of the year for us) is extra special also for the much needed rain which has arrived, and we have been blessed with good rains in the latter three months of 2012. The bushveld is looking fantastic - lush and green, and long may the rains continue into the first half of 2013. This will help ensure that underground water reserves are replenished, and set up the animals for the drier winter months that will follow.
Rain and green bushveld heralds the start of the breeding season for local and migratory bird species, and is also the time many of the herbivores give birth to their young. This is such an exciting time, with new arrivals around every corner!
We were lucky enough to witness the birth of a Wildebeest baby recently, something which is not often seen. Sue got this picture just as the baby was delivered, and dropped to the ground. This "normal birth", although possibly resulting in a headache for the newborn, went well.
In Wildebeest society, it is normal for the expectant mother to move slightly away from the herd to give birth. This is critical, as when the youngster is born, it needs to "imprint" it's mother in it's mind so as not to loose her when they re-join the herd. Calves are totally dependant on their mothers, and a calf that becomes confused and does not stay with it's mother will not survive.
It is great to watch all the youngsters on drive - you can get really close to them, and their playful antics make for some amazing photographs.
On the birding front, nests and babies are everywhere. From the swallows with their mud nests under the roof overhangs at the Lodge to the weaver nests in the trees and the yellow billed hornbills breeding in a hole in a Coral tree in the Lodge garden. Unusual, or rarely seen visitors are also here this year - a pair of violet-backed starlings nesting in a dead tree stump. The male's back plumage being the colour of a bishop's robe is truly awesome in the sunlight, and a black Crake which has taken up residence around the Koi pond.
This black Crake, who lives in reed beds and around water feeds on tadpoles and other small water insects and vegetation. His jet black body, with lemon yellow bill and red legs are very striking.
Birders, twitchers, or birding specialists by any other name do their best to confuse mere mortals such as ourselves! We know some of the common birds in our area, but anything smaller than a Francolin is at risk of being referred to as an L.B.J. (Little Brown Job) or even worse, T.B.J. (Tiny Brown Job).
Just when you think you may be getting the hang of it, the specialists come along and re-classify and re-name a whole lot of birds as happened some years ago. So the Francolins of which we have three sub-species in this area (Crested, Swainson's and Natal) are now split into Francolins and Spurfowls. Only the crested is still a Francolin. I don't know about you, but it sounds much nicer to refer to a bird as a Francolin than a Spurfowl. Similarly, the grey Lourie is now the grey go-away-bird, the dikkop is now a thick-knee, and you now have Plovers and Lapwings which all used to be Plovers!
Too much for my little mind - or maybe I just need to study a bit harder!
At least a Lion is still a Lion!!
This handsome male came down to the waterhole for a drink last night - not sure of his identification, but perhaps one of two new male lions just released into Madikwe. This has been done recently in order to add variety to the genetic pool of Lions in the Reserve for the long-term benefit of the population here.
Very special for us is the introduction of several Cheetah from other Reserves in South Africa. These animals have been brought in to re-establish a healthy cheetah population in Madikwe, and it is fantastic to see them again on game drive. For those who may not know, there were only two Cheetahs in Madikwe in recent years, others having fallen fowl (there's that bird word again!) of larger predators in the Reserve.
Importantly, these Cheetah are "predator aware", and therefore stand a good chance of survival. We look forward to one day soon seeing our first Cheetah at the waterhole at the Lodge.
Coming full circle, let's end off with some pictures of other new additions in Madikwe!
**With thanks to Steffi and Camillo
With all things NEW - new babies everywhere, new bird names for me to learn, and a new Year, may we wish all of our friends and guests a fabulous 2013, and look forward to seeing you back with us this year!
Gordon & Sue.
p.s. The Hide at the waterhole at Bush House continues to exceed all our expectations in terms of the "WOW" factor for our Guests. If you have the chance, do come and see for youselves!