Mashatu’s magic

Mashatu Nature Reserve offers the photographer and wildlife lover endless fascination.

“It seems to me that the natural world is the greatest source of excitement; the greatest source of visual beauty; the greatest source of intellectual interest. It is the greatest source of so much in life that makes life worth living.” ~ David Attenborough

The Limpopo river was flowing full. The first image was taken from the Mashatu side of the river looking west. The earth embankment shows how high the river level gets on occasions. There is a significant flood plain on the Mashatu side of the Limpopo river, the flatness of which allows the river, when it has burst its banks, to reach above the far side of the vlei which must be around a kilometre from the normal river course.

A pair of White-fronted bee-eaters which were hawking insects from a dead branch. The White-fronted and Little bee-eaters are resident in Mashatu. The Carmine and European bee-eaters are summer migrants.

We had great fun photographing the White-fronted bee-eaters flying from this perch, to catch insects, and then returning to the same perch. They did not always return to the same perch but they did often enough to encourage us to stay and try to photograph them.

Unlike the White-fronted bee-eater the Carmine bee-eater is an intra-African migrant. We saw many Carmines in the reserve in summer enjoying the feast of insects brought out by the rains and warm weather.

Each day we visited a Bat-eared fox den which we had found some distance above the vlei. The parents had three pups. When the wind blows they tend to flatten their ears to reduce the roaring sound of the wind. The sandy den entrance was surrounded by wild flowers creating a beautiful and peaceful scene.

“It is that range of biodiversity that we must care for – the whole thing – rather than just one or two stars.” ~David Attenborough

A Lesser Spotted eagle, one which did not fly away when we go fairly close. The stove-pipe leggings and size are diagnostic features of this predominately insect eating eagle.

Mashatu has several ecosystems. In summer the pans fill with rain water which attracts birds and animals alike. These spots can be very productive for wildlife photography.

“Your life requires your mindful presence in order to live it. Be here now.” ―~ Akiroq Brost

A summer migrant from Europe. There were many White storks in Mashatu in summer, all enjoying the bounty of insects in the grass and open plains.

I think there are two or three pairs of Saddle-billed storks resident in Mashatu. They can usually be found in the vlei or foraging in the river beds. This female Saddle-billed stork is identified by her yellow eye ring and she no yellow wattle under her beak. The male has a black eye and a yellow wattle under his beak.

The water filled pans attract waders of all sorts. This was a young member of a family of Kittlitz plovers foraging on the edge of the pan.

In the same pan as the Kittlitz plover family, this lone juvenile Marsh sandpiper was enjoying foraging in the shallow waters which offered rich pickings.

It was mid-morning and we were driving in the sand bed of a tributary which led down to the Majale river. In an open clearing in a croton grove we came across a leopardess relaxing with apparently not a care in the world.

There was also another vehicle at this sighting but she was completely relaxed and took no notice of either vehicle while we watched her for about 20 minutes.

“Life gives you plenty of time to do whatever you want to do if you stay in the present moment.” — Deepak Chopra

Leopards look completely relaxed but they could react to a threat or hunting opportunity in an instant. Don’t ever be fooled!

She was a beautiful leopardess, majestic in her prime. Confident in her knowledge and capabilities.

The dam wall at the east end of the vlei in Mashatu. In summer it holds back water making large pools which attract waterfowl, pelicans and storks. I have never seen the water higher than what is shown in the image below other than when the flood broke the dam wall many years ago.

A breeding herd of elephants making their way out of the Croton grove feeding on the lush grasses in an open clearing. They must have been down at the Majale river to drink and bathe.

A lone lioness lying in the shade in the Majale river bed. This is the coolest place to be as the moist sand also helps her keep cool. It was still fairly early in the morning so she was relatively alert.

“Always hold fast to the present. Every situation, indeed every moment, is of infinite value, for it is the representative of a whole eternity.” ~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I have been to Mashatu many times over the past 12 years and never grow tired of climbing on the game vehicle full of expectation of what I will see in the next few hours. The wildlife sightings and photographic opportunities are many and varied.

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” ~ Alice Morse Earle

There is also a benefit from getting to know a place intimately. The wildlife is dynamic and the weather is ever changing so I am always seeing different sightings in different places with the weather creating different moods and colours.

“Wherever you are be all there.” ~ Jim Elliot

In my next post from this trip to Mashatu I will show the different moods which Mashatu offers.

Explore, seek to understand, marvel at its interconnectedness and let it be.

Have fun, Mike

6 thoughts on “Mashatu’s magic

  1. Howdy Mike, I always look forward to receiving your next posting…. it’s like waiting for one’s favourite subscription magazine!
    The image titled Wood Sandpiper is actually a Marsh Sandpiper….Check out its needle-like bill.

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