Mashatu’s summer moods

Summer in southern Africa is a time of warm evenings, hot days, rain and moody skies with thunder cloud build up in the afternoons. The rains normally begin in December and continue until April. The warmer wetter weather attracts summer avian palearctic migrants from as far as Russia. It is a time of bounty for the wildlife, especially the herbivores.

“Go to the banks of the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and find out.” ~ Rudyard Kipling

The next image was taken looking north east into the glare of the early morning sun from the Mashatu side of the Limpopo river. The river was flowing full but not in flood. The Limpopo meets the Shashe river at Shalimpo which is about 15 kilometres down river from where the next image was taken. When these two rivers are in flood there is a huge volume of water flowing along the South African-Zimbabwe boundary and on into Mozambique sometimes with devastating effects.

Looking west up the Limpopo river without the glare of the early morning sun. At this point, the Limpopo river is banked by South Africa on the south and Botswana and Mashatu on the north side. Although the earthen banks of the Limpopo are steep in places this river does, when in flood, burst its banks. Back in 2013, the Limpopo river burst its banks pouring a massive volume of water onto its flood plain in Mashatu. The flood waters reached well beyond the vlei about a kilometre from the normal course of the river.

Some mornings we were unsure of whether to go out for a game drive as the rain clouds were threatening. Of course this is just the time a wildlife photographer wants to go out as it offers unusual colours and moods and the wildlife behaves differently. The next image shows the cloud build up in the west which created a wonderful moody and threatening atmosphere.

“Jobs fill your pocket but adventures fill your soul.” ~ Jamie Lyn Beatty

On the south side of Mashatu lies a vlei (marsh) which becomes a wetland in summer. The low earth embankment serves as a dam wall which holds back big pools of water. These seasonal pools of rain water attract many species of waterfowl and waders. This dam wall is about a kilometre from the Limpopo river.

A view looking west across the vlei towards the red sandstone ridge which stretches for many kilometres from Mapungubwe in South Africa to Mmamagwa and Soloman’s wall at the far west boundary of Mashatu.

Down at Figtree crossing on the Majale river is a rocky section. It forms a bend in the river which holds deep pools of water in summer. This is a favourite part of the river for leopards. Late in the afternoon, the west bank is cast in shade affording wildlife some respite from the afternoon sun.

“How many times have you noticed that it’s the little quiet moments in the midst of life that seem to give the rest extra-special meaning?” ~ Fred Rogers

Early one morning down at the vlei’s dam wall. We were parked on the wall looking at a pair of Fish eagles in a large dead tree when a flock of White-faced Whistling ducks flew in front of the dead tree to land on the dam wall. The large trees in the background are Mashatu trees, Leadwoods, Figtrees and Apple leafs which were growing close to the Limpopo river.

As the sun sets over the horizon we usually stop for sundowners. While the colours of the sky in the sunset are wonderful often by looking behind us the colours and scene can be just as beautiful and often more moody. The following image is of the moon rising partly obscured by clouds.

“Travel doesn’t become adventure until you leave yourself behind” ~ Marty Rubin

The impala rutting season is usually around April-May each year. The rutting is where males fight each other for the right to mate with the females. Successful mating usually results in a spate of new impala births around November-December to coincide with the rains and new grazing.

This is a view looking south across the vlei toward the large trees lining the Limpopo river. The edge of vlei close to the large trees is a favourite place for elephant families to forage. Beyond the trees on the South African side of the Limpopo is the sandstone ridge which runs through Mapungubwe National Park and Mashatu.

Leopards use these horizontal boughs of the large trees along the rivers to lie and sleep on. They usually spread their legs either side of the bough and look supremely comfortable. These boughs are high off the ground away from most diurnal threats except baboons.

The sandstone ridge runs from Mapungubwe in South Africa across the Limpopo river into Mashatu and on to Mmawagwa and Soloman’s wall on the far west side of Mashatu. In the sandstone ridge there are large dolerite intrusions which form massive rock outcrops.

Mapungubwe lies on the opposite side of the Limpopo river to Mashatu in a basin, called the Limpopo Mobile Belt, between two cratons (a large section of stable crust). About 250 million years ago the crust began to shift along the belt and molten rock from the mantle was pushed up through cracks in the sandstone. The molten rock formed dolerite dykes. Once the sandstone eroded away, the harder dolerite left behind created regular shaped ridges. These features can be seen in Mapungubwe National Park and Mmamagwa Hill on top of which can be found the so-called “Rhodes Baobab”. Solomon’s wall is an example of a vertical dolerite dyke which formed a dam wall across the Motloutse river. Over an extended period the dyke weathered to the point where the river breached the dyke. The two sides of the breached dyke either side of the Motloutse river are now called Solomon’s wall. (Source: South

” The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ~ Marcel Proust

Mashatu is a place of great diversity. There are several different ecosystems. The area is steeped in history and the geology records a place of much change over the millenia. Wildlife lovers, photographers, botanists, ecologists, historians and geologists alike will find this a fascinating place worth exploring. Although Mashatu is Botswana soil, the dynamics of the area are strongly influenced by both South Africa and Zimbabwe.

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

Have fun, Mike

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