Last weekend, Helen and I returned to Mashatu Game Reserve. The main reason for the trip was to take a converted game vehicle from Polokwane in South Africa to Mashatu. With an early start, we were in Polokwane by around 8h30 on the Saturday morning and were due to meet a Mashatu representative to collect the new vehicle and get the appropriate papers for border clearance. The idea was that once cleared at the South African customs we would drive the vehicle across the Limpopo river get border clearance on the Botswana side and deliver the vehicle to main Mashatu office which is located about 100 metres from the border post. The Limpopo river had been passable by vehicle up until that weekend.
“Life is adventure, not predicament.”
– James Broughton
The next image shows how the river had filled in one day and by Saturday was very deep and flowing fast. The steel wire cables carry the ponte across the river. When the river is up it is the only way to cross the river, which only adds to the adventure of the trip.
Needless to say there was problem. The paperwork would only allow us to cross the border at Ponte Drift. To cut a long story short, we never collected the new converted game vehicle in Polokwane because of the specific border clearance requirement. We had booked a two night stay in Mashatu main camp to take advantage of the trip and we were already half way to Mashatu from Johannesburg so we decided to just have a fun weekend anyway.
“The rain to the wind said,
You push and I’ll pelt.’
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged–though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.”
― Robert Frost
The next shot was taken looking upstream of what the Kolokolo Bird said, in the Elephant Child story in Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, was the “great grey–green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees“. As you can see the sky was heavily overcast and dark and it looked like there was more rain way on the way. This image was taken at midday.
One of the many magical things about Mashatu is that with a little rain the bush springs back to life very quickly. It is mid-autumn in southern Africa and the rain had transformed the bush from a drying green-brown colour into a verdant green Eden with carpets of yellow Devil-thorn flowers.
“Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add colour to my sunset sky.”
– Rabindranath Tagore
On the way to the main camp we crossed the Majale river. This is a seasonal river but was now filled with many pools of water. With all the water around the game was likely to be dispersed as it no longer needed to come down to the rivers.
We were lucky to see this young Lioness as the bush was thick and access was much more difficult because it was so wet and muddy. The predators have a tougher time during the wet season because the game is more dispersed and with the abundant food the prey is fitter, healthier and more difficult to catch.
The rest of the pride, which we did not see, must have finished off a Wildebeest the night before but this lone Lioness was left gnawing at the skull. We found her as a number of Hyaenas were lurking around her and a few white-backed Vultures were patiently waiting on top of a Shepherd tree close by.
The next day, intermittent spears of sunlight pierced through the heavy cloud layer creating brief photographic opportunities with wonderful light. The sky was very heavy but made a wonderful dark moody background.
“I am sure it is a great mistake always to know enough to go in when it rains. One may keep snug and dry by such knowledge, but one misses a world of loveliness.”
– Adeline Knapp
The rain had brought the “garden of Eden” to life providing enrichment for all. Everything from Elephants to Steenbok and Guineafowl seemed to like the Devil-thorn flowers and this photographer was reveling in the beauty and bounty of it all.
We came across a pair of Steenbok feeding on the new flowers. These are beautiful, dainty, small buck with a reddish-brown coat and a white belly. Only the males have horns.
Steenbok are browsers and grazers and seemed to enjoy the yellow Devil-thorn flowers.
Both ram and ewe Steenbok are territorial and have separate territories which they scent mark with their pre-orbital, inter-digital and inter-mandibular glands. They are diurnal and often rest up in the shade of a tree in midday heat. Leopards love Steenbok!
The pre-orbital glands are clearly visible below the eye along the nose. The male Steenbok has two short straight horns and those big eyes are ” all the better to see you with”.
“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware.”
– Martin Buber
Not five minutes after we were watching the pair of Steenbok, our guide Eric and tracker Albert alerted us to a Martial Eagle in a tree close by.
It had caught a Guineafowl and its prey was still alive and wriggling around so this raptor had its wings open to balance and stop the Guineafowl from escaping. We moved closer but the background changed from being dark to the bright sky making the contrast more tricky.
“The best journeys in life are those that answer questions you never thought to ask.”
– Rich Ridgeway
This Martial Eagle was agitated and vocalising because a large Tawny Eagle had seen what had happened and had come to check out the possibilities.
The Tawny Eagle was very relaxed and waiting patiently.
The Martial Eagle was not relaxed and flew into a higher tree nearby. This made the photography even more difficult because of the stark contracts with the white cloud-filled sky.
Eventually, the Martial eagle decided there were too many interested parties watching its meal and it flew off to feed in private.
The Kori Bustard is Botswana’s national bird. It will not let you get close and will quickly walk away in much the same way as the Secretary Bird. The male Kori Bustard is considered to be the heaviest living animal capable of flight. Like most Bustards, the Kori Bustard is a ground-dwelling and an opportunistic omnivore. A male Kori Bustard can be more than twice as heavy than the female, and are definitely not monogamous. The name kori is derived from the Tswana name for this bird –Kgori
When driving around Mashatu you will come across many of these talkative Long-tailed Starlings and great at giving away the position of predators such as a Mongooses, Wildcat or snake. They have this stunning iridescent sheen in the morning light, even when it is so cloudy.
We were also fortunate enough to find the female Cheetah with her four cubs. They were growing fast and had grown in confidence since we last saw them in February.
This is one competent Cheetah mum to have raised four cubs to this point in a wild place filled with competing predators.
For those of you who have been to Mashatu in the winter season when it is bone dry, brown and dusty, this image will be quite novel for you. The dirt roads were saturated and indentations were filled with water. You had to be careful when going off-road as it was very easy to get stuck in the mud. Thank goodness for those tough 4×4 Landcruisers.
“There’s no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing”
– Sir Rannulph Fiennes
At last light just before we got stuck in the mud, we found these two young males lying on top of the dam wall. We got stuck in the mud about two hundred metres further on. With all the commotion whilst trying to get out of the mud, these two Lions came down to investigate. Fortunately, we had got the vehicle out of the mud and were safety ensconced in our vehicle before they arrived.
Some of our close relatives having a relaxing day in the park.
The troop leader would sit away from his harem and keep a wary eye on the party.
“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning to sail my ship.”
– Louisa May Alcott
More often than not Spurfowl will run away from you but every now and then a photographer gets a break and one individual does not flee. This male Swainson’s Spurfowl was declaring his position with great gusto.
The background was perfect and he was perched in an ideal position. It is very satisfying when it all comes together.
I could not believe this young female Hyaena gnawing at this old desiccated Elephant pelvic bone. We must have watched her breaking bits off the bone off for about half an hour. It was quite remarkable that she did not break any teeth and is testament to her bite strength.
The Majale river had a small stream of water flowing from pool to pool, a wonderful sight considering it will be bone dry in a few months. Perhaps this winter season there will be more water around than usual because of the late rains. You can see how dark it was even at mid-morning.
“Life is like a flowing stream; once the flow stops, our life becomes stagnant. When we remove the dams and debris we have accumulated and encourage it to flow freely, it becomes a source of sustenance and renewal and growth for us and for all with whom we share it.”
― Tom Hackett
I hope you enjoyed the eclectic mix of images and the moody rain-laden skies. I will do one more post from the weekend next week.
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at it interconnectedness and let it be.