And so we say goodbye to an old year and say hello to a new one as 2015 kicks off with some beautiful sightings. January has brought us some beautiful sunsets, amazing sightings, and lots of much needed rain. The waterfalls at the lodge have not flowed yet (they are a little late this summer) but the rivers and dams are all full and the whole reserve is teeming with life.
The Southern Pride has finally returned to the South, but are now exploring their home that they haven’t been in for a while and sightings have been rare. The Western Pride is doing well and the new cubs have been spotted since last month and are nice and healthy.
The big Elephant Herd has moved back up from the South and are mostly seen in the centre of the reserve – which means we are getting some fantastic sightings of them.
Leopard sightings have been good this month, making it tricky to choose which photos to use in the newsletter. We are happy that the dense bush has not affected our sightings of these powerful and shy hunters.
The Buffalo bulls have been rare this month, with us actually seeing more Leopards this month than Buffalo.
Sighting of the month
My sighting for the month was one we had of a young Leopard. It’s not often that you hear of a sighting nearby after you just had sundowners. We were lucky and got there in time to see it hiding behind a rock staring curiously at the vehicles – 20 meters away.
After posing nicely for some photos, this rosette cat started walking along the ridge it was on, exploring every nook and cranny of the rocks and stopping to stretch, lie down and watch us every few meters.
We were able to follow the Leopard like this for almost 20 minutes, for it decided to take a nice long nap in a thicket. Definitely a nice way to start the year and keep guests happy – especially since no one on my vehicle had never seen a leopard before.
Our Cheetah sightings have been rather scarce this month as the females all cover great distances in search for food. Our female that had the sub-adult male is on her own again, as the male finally left his mother in search of a territory of his own. The female with four cubs has disappeared to the far North West of the reserve again and is doing very well in teaching her cubs how to fend for themselves.
These mushrooms growing out of this pile of Elephant dung is called Cracked mottle gill. We see them all over the reserve growing out of dung in the summer months. They get rather sticky when they are wet, and are not edible at all. They do, however, look pretty regardless.
This awesome little colourful bird is a Malachite Kingfisher. I have only seen them in a certain part of the reserve and we were very lucky to get a glimpse of one on a morning drive. It flew about the water in search of fish, and actually caught one or two while we quietly sat and watched this little hunter in action. Of the ten Kingfisher species you can see in the country, we have all but the Mangrove Kingfisher. The rarest to see on our reserve is the Half-Collared Kingfisher.
Zebras are generally a very common sighting with a population of over 1000 on the reserve. We mostly see them either grazing or sleeping. Once in a while however, you get lucky and come across a territorial dispute or fight amongst stallions for a herd of females. These two males were very aggressive and completely ignored the vehicle while settling their dispute. They would push each other and bite and kick, going for the vital areas like the head, neck, shoulders and chest. Legs were occasionally targeted as well. They will often rear up on their hind legs to try get the upper hand over their opponent with more leverage to do serious damage. This particular fight was settled in about five minutes after the zebra on the right successfully landed a back leg kick to the jaw of his opponent.
When we have guests that come to the bush for the first time, we try to show them as much as possible about everything. So when the only animal you’re missing is the Buffalo, you strongly consider driving into a sectioned off area of the reserve to go look for the breeding herd when you can’t find the lone bulls in the rest of the reserve. This particular drive we were unsuccessful in finding any Buffalo whatsoever. We did however, find the Sable bulls that live in the same 2000h as our breeding herd of Buffalo. This made the search completely worthwhile as these majestic young bulls with their healthy gleaming coats and impressive sets of horns (even though they still have quite a bit to grow) posed for photos.
Bird of the year: Blue Crane
The Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus) has been selected as the bird of the year this year. This beautiful bird is currently listed as Vulnerable in the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) Re List. The Blue Crane is also the National bird of South Africa.
This majestic bird is near-endemic to South Africa with some isolated flocks found in Namibia, Botswana and Swaziland. It has a very limited range in which it is found and abundant in those areas, but rare in most areas of South Africa.
These birds are mostly independent of Wetlands which makes them more widespread than any other crane in South Africa. Blue Cranes are primarily vegetarian feeding on small bulbs, seeds and roots. They also eat a variety of insects, reptiles and small mammals.
They are a monogamous species (they mate for life) despite being very social animals and are very territorial while breeding, chasing any other Blue Cranes out of their area while breeding. Eggs are laid any time between August and April. Non-breeding birds form flocks during this period and chicks join this flock after they have fledged. This forms large over-wintering groups. The courtship display between couples are done by jumping up and down with their wings extended.
Blue Cranes nest in wetlands, grasslands and agricultural areas. Birds often return to nest in the same area as they did the previous year. The nest is built by means of dung and stones scraped together, or a pad of vegetation. They usually lay two eggs which is incubated by both the male and female. Eggs hatched about a month later. Both chicks are usually reared with an initial diet of insect larvae and worms. Chicks are able to fly after 3 – 5 months and become mature between 3 – 5 years of age. The parents are very protective of their young and will defend them with much aggression.
During winter months they migrate only within South Africa, and not much is known about their migratory patterns and habits. In the past the population of these Cranes were known to be around 100 000 individuals, but recent population estimates are between 15 855 and 25 120 (according to the South African Crane Conservation Programme).
Although this majestic bird is still found in most areas of its historic range, populations world-wide have experienced significant declines in population. These declines are from a wide range of factors like poisoning, habitat destruction, illegal trade, power line collisions, fences and bailing twine.
The Blue Crane faces many threats, but conservation programmes by the Endangered Wildlife Trust and South African Crane Conservation Programme have been put in place to try raise awareness and protection for the amazing species.
Welgevonden Game Reserve has its own breeding pair that returns every year to come nest in our wetlands and we do what we can to make sure they stay protected and safe.
Rhino Poaching Update
Total Rhinos poached in 2015 until end January: 49
Total poacher-related arrests this year until end January: 17