In August 2021, we were able to return to Mashatu for the first time since the lockdown in mid-March 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. It was soul refreshing to get back into the African bush. Many things had changed and many stayed the same.
“Winter in southern Africa is dry. The mornings are icy and the days warm. The smell of the bush brings back the familiarity where associations stray. Drying waterholes force wildlife to congregate and queleas to swarm.” ~ Mike Haworth
August is the last month of winter in southern Africa. It is the driest time of the year and the Tuli Block in south eastern Botswana is especially dry. It is a place of varied ecosystems and great seasonal variations. During winter, Mashatu can resemble a moonscape in places because it is so dry. By contrast in mid-summer, the rains transform this very dry place into what looks like the garden of Eden which is verdant green and the open plains are carpeted with yellow Devil Thorn flowers and there is a sense of abundance.
“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you have changed” ~ Nelson Mandela
The one aspect that had changed was that the resident lone male lion was kicked out of his territory by three young nomad males. The next image shows one of the new males lying down after having fed well on an eland kill. The male kept an eye on the surroundings while his newly bonded lionesses fed.
One aspect of Mashatu you can always be sure of is it’s eclectic wildlife. Back in camp at the bird bath a juvenile Black-headed oriole came in for a short drink.
Blue waxbills were enjoying a bath a midday in the camp’s bird bath.
“Heaven is under our feet as well as above our heads.”~ Henry David Thoreau
There is a waterhole about seventy metres from the camp’s main lodge which during winter attracts wildlife varying from elephants to kudu and herons. This was one member of a bachelor herd of three young kudu bulls which came down for a drink that day.
Back at the camp’s birdbath a pair of Black-cheeked waxbills came in for a drink. This was the first time I had seen this species of waxbill in camp in over ten years. They drank quickly and were gone, not to be seen again for the rest of our stay.
The adult Black-headed oriole also came in for a drink. This species frequents the camp and its fluted call can often be heard. Its bright yellow plumage stands out like a jewel against the browns and oranges of the dry winter bush.
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” ~ Melody Beattie
A male steenbok in the afternoon sun. We did not see his female who might have been in the dense thickets behind him.
Our guide and driver, Justice, has the most incredible eyesight. He found one of the two chicks of a Double-banded sandgrouse on the ground hidden in some dry grass. He picked up on the parent’s decoy tactics and started to look carefully for the chicks.
” Mother nature is the most inspired, devious and wily artist.” ~ Mike Haworth
The chicks lie dead still in the grass and are beautifully camouflaged. This little chick was probably the size of my thumb so we were fortunate to see it. The parent sandgrouse quickly move away from the chicks who don’t move in the dry grass. The parents try to lure any potential threat away from their chicks.
“The world is not to be put in order. The world is order. It is for us to put ourselves in unison with this order.” ~ Henry Miller
We usually leave camp around 6h30 in winter because the sun rises later. On our way out we pass a large rock outcrop and adjacent to the outcrop is a grove of large apple leaf trees. There is a family of Verreaux eagle owls that are resident in this area.
Mashatu is known for its excellent leopard sightings, and this trip was no exception. We were driving in the dry Majale riverbed when we came upon this young leopardess just sitting on the top of the river bank watching the passing parade.
The background was very messy so it was difficult to get a really good shot of the young leopardess but after a while she lay down on the dusty ground at the top of the river bank to enjoy the warmth of the sun in the early winter morning.
“On an icy African winter morn all wildlife seeks a safe spot to absorb the warmth of the sun radiating through the clear blue sky.” ~ Mike Haworth
One member of the new reigning male lion coalition lying in the shade having already had his fill of eland, he was listening to the lionesses feeding behind him and also keeping guard.
One feature of Mashatu in winter is the massing of queleas. They seem to swarm on the ground moving like locusts. They are seed eaters and move in massive flocks of hundreds of thousands.
It was wonderful to be able to get back into the bush again. The trip was not without its challenges. The closest border post, Ponte Drift, was closed so we had to travel via Martin’s Drift from Johannesburg to Botswana which added an extra three and a half hours to our drive, but it was worth it. The wildlife was oblivious of our human travails and seemed to have thrived in our absence.
“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” ~ John Burroughs
Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.
Have fun, Mike
Your photographs are breath-taking and you capture the light so beautifully. Blue waxbills are among my favourite birds and the scene of the queleas takes me back to the first time I witnessed such a sight in Botswana – far too many years ago now.
Anne, Thank you for sharing the journey!!