And just like that, we're putting up the Christmas decorations and looking ahead to the new year, 2019! As November draws to a close, perhaps what stands out the most is the extended dry climate and the intensity of the hot days we are having. It's easier than you would think to forget about the sizzling African summers when you've become used to the cooler days, crisp mornings, and evenings that darken more quickly during winter. But November has well and truly reminded us that our neck of the woods comes packed with summer temperatures that make us all very grateful for the air-conditioning and swimming pool! But what we're missing, for another year in a row, is the much needed rainfall that should follow the hot days. The drought continues to keep a tight hold on the Lowveld, and everything that we would expect from summer is arriving much later than usual. In this newsletter, we've included a ranger's report on what we can expect as summer arrives, as well as our usual sightings highlights and photos and video clips from our rangers!
Ranger Report: Hello Summer!
Tshukudu field guides Alister, Tyrone, and Juluka, reported on some of the seasonal changes we can expect and are seeing at this time of year, and added a bit of advice for guests getting ready for their summer safari at Tshukudu.
As summer time arrives in November, we can expect it to be much warmer than it has been since about February. We can expect a broad range of temperatures now as the weather finds its feet in a world of new extremes, with peak temperatures reaching up to 47 degrees Celsius and dropping to lows of about 26 degrees. With a bit of luck, we can also hope to see our first significant rainfall of the season in November, which in turn will help the plants spring to life. We can look forward to beautiful tree canopies and fuller grass cover stretching for miles. It won't happen overnight, but if we get the rain we would like, maybe we'll see a green transformation by mid-December. The return of migratory birds are a sure sign of the summer arrival, and rather later than normal, we're seeing (and hearing) the vibrant woodland kingfisher back in Tshukudu territory!
Summer safaris are full of adventure and possible afternoon thundershowers that bring relief from the heat of the day, and give rise to humidity. When you're packing for your trip, remember to include sunblock, sun glasses, and hats to protect from the sun while on game drive. Mosquito repellant, a rain jacket or poncho, and something warm for early morning departures are also necessary for a summer safari.
With the current drought, animals are quite widely spread out seeking the patchy shade and reduced resources of food. We can often find the water dependent species like rhino and buffalo around the dams where they can drink and cool off in the mud. It is a tough time for the animals throughout the drought-stricken Lowveld, but with one or two decent downpours, we hope to see the landscape changing in the coming month.
Welcome the dung beetles
Just as their name suggests, these black, purple, and coppery coloured beetles survive off dung! Preferably herbivore dung, which is made up of lots of undigested nutrients and moisture, which is what the dung beetles need to feed on. As the summer rains arrive, we see dung beetles emerging on fresh piles of elephant, rhino, and buffalo dung, and these fascinating creatures become the cleaners of the bush. In winter, this role is taken over by the termites.
Dung beetles, also known as African scarab beetles, are either rollers, tunnelers, or dwellers, which describe their various life cycles with dung! Rollers roll the dung into balls and then bury the balls elsewhere in soft soil. Tunnelers, or burrowers, dig down directly below the heap of dung and take their dung balls underground. Dwellers are the variety of beetle that actually lives in dung heaps, and at any time there could be a variety of dung beetles making use of a single pile of fresh dung. These special beetles are incredibly important for the health of the ecosystem, spreading the nutrients in undigested dung into the soil, and cleaning up the area by utilising the excrement of other animals. Tyrone captured this quick video clip of a roller in action on Tshukudu and showed his guests this interesting little creature. Would you believe they use the moonlight and the Milky Way for navigation?
A wonderful sighting of a very relaxed male leopard was captured on video by one of our guests and kindly shared with us. It is not often that these elusive, solitary, nocturnal cats are seen strolling about in the light of day, but here we were in the right place at the right time and watched for a long time as he walked along the road, rubbing up against the vegetation and sniffing around. Surely this is one of Africa's most beautiful creatures!
Christmas is coming
While we might not be "dashing through the snow", we are gearing up for the festive season with jingle bells and tinsel to give Tshukudu Game Lodge a bit of Christmas sparkle! You might find your ranger with a pointed hat that doesn't quite match his khakis, but it is all in the name of festive cheer as we blend in with the decorations. The Christmas tree is up and the fairy lights are on in reception as we look forward to our annual Christmas celebration. This year, we are having Christmas dinner on the 24th, but unfortunately we are not open to the public for bookings as we are fully booked. For Old Years Eve we will be having a spitbraai (rotisserie) in the boma, with a bonfire and bar at House Dam after dinner to welcome in 2019. There will no longer be fireworks on display as this practice has been discontinued. We are looking forward to the mammoth preparations with our excellent team of staff building up to this annual event!
The end of the day might just be our favourite time of day... until we wake up to a sunrise beautiful enough to compete with the sunset of the evening before! Our ranger, Alister, is always one to stop and admire the sunset as it stains the sky all sorts of dramatic colours, and here are a few of our favourites this month.
It's the small things
Morning bush walks are designed for the details. We are lucky enough to have the cheetahs join us as we are guided on foot out in their territory, but even when we aren't accompanied by these sleek, spotted cats, we have plenty to look at. Here are some snaps taken during these interesting investigative walks in the bush, where we uncover all sorts of insects, animal tracks, and lesser known members of the wild, like a hinge-backed tortoise, a foam-nest tree frog, and a colony of termites!