Mid Winter produces shorter days but clear night skies

June is considered as mid-winter, with the winter solstice occurring on the 21st and the days now starting to get longer once more. However, we are only just starting our winter months as the temperatures will still be on the lower side for the next couple of months at least, not that it gets that cold in the lowveld. Some may argue that, but globally we are in an area known as the place of two summers. We have had a couple of days of what we would consider cold conditions.

Winter months are magical here in the lowveld as we generally get clear skies allowing for wonderful opportunities for star photography from the hide and the potential for capturing those spectacular scenes of animals beneath the milky way. This lion photo was one of the very first taken at Umgede Hide nearly 4 years ago. Villiers Steyn thinks he can improve on it, see his new goal a bit further on.

Carnivore sightings serve up a feast

We had some amazing other predator sightings during the month, including a visit by an unidentified male leopard and a couple of visits by a large pride of lions. It was around this time that the jackal appeared, possibly trying to scavenge off whatever the lions had killed. The following night produced some wonderful video sequences of the young lions playing by the water’s edge. Seeing photos of 12 or more lions lined up along the edge of the waterhole is special indeed, in fact so special that it has motivated our good friend Villiers Steyn to want to improve on his “Elephants under the Milky Way” with a new scene. A pride of lions under the Milky Way is his new goal.

There's always something unexpected to surpise you at Antares

We have lived on Grietjie for almost 25 years now and yet there are still some things that happen for the first time. During June we recorded our first sighting of a side-striped jackal at the camp. Ian had heard of one sighting before on the reserve but many years ago. Apparently in the 1990’s they were once common here, but they disappeared, probably as a result of persecution by the farming community in those early days. Let’s hope that this individual is joined by others and that the population can grow.

Dagga boys

Buffalo too, have given us some memorable experiences this month. A herd of about 6 Dagga Boys (the old males) paid us a visit, as did a herd of over 20 buffalo. Dagga Boys is a term used to describe the old bulls that generally leave the safety of a herd after they have fulfilled their useful role as the main breeding bulls and are now left to live out their lives in retirement. Generally they live solitary lives at this stage but occasionally small groups of them join forces. They often wallow in the mud to protect themselves against biting flies and to cool off, dagga meaning mud in the Zulu language gives rise to their nickname of dagga boys. They become short-tempered and are often described as the most dangerous animal in the bush at this stage.

Other mammal visitors to the waterhole

Other mammals that have made an appearance at the waterhole are the daily visits by large groups of impalas and a few different duikers. Towards the start of the month kudu were regulars but by the end of the month they seem to have moved off, possibly heading down towards the river in search of better forage now that most of the trees are devoid of leaves. The odd giraffe and bushbuck and nyala showed up too. We also had several sightings of a slender mongoose but he is quite nervous so you need to be alert if you want to catch him on camera. Likewise, a genet appeared on one or two nights but also didn’t stay for long. The dwarf mongoose family are always in the area somewhere and for those of you with a lot of patience might get lucky seeing them emerge from the rocks by the entrance to the hide.

Some conservation stories from the reserve and around the camp

From a conservation aspect the reserve and ourselves had a few stories over the past month. The Balule/APNR reserves were the proud recipients of a large number of white rhinos recently. These originated from a private farmer who had to sell his farm because he couldn’t afford to keep it going. African Peace Parks bought the farm, and their intention is to rewild all 2000 plus rhinos over the next ten years across Africa. Although Umgede hide is yet to record any sightings we are excited to have the possibility, but with it comes the responsibility of not broadcasting any records and so we have a policy in place now that no photos of these wonderful animals can be posted on social media platforms.

We also had the scenario of the young elephant with a snare around its trunk. Some of you may have seen this on our social media feeds recently. It was terrible to watch this young animal not being able to make full use of his trunk to eat and drink and he was forced to dunk his head into the water to drink. Thankfully on the 2nd attempt to locate him the reserve manged to remove the snare and treat the wound and from the reports we have heard back, he seems to be coping well. Once again an amazing effort by a very dedicated management team on the reserve to intervene and treat animals that have been impacted by a man-made scenario.

The other scenario that has played out over the past week or so is a young male lion who appears to have been separated from his pride and is still too young to hunt successfully on his own. Ian came across him just meters away from our house and over the next few days was able to observe him. He is extremely thin and not in great shape. However this is a totally natural event and one that we don’t get involved in. Male lions have a tough life and many get killed by the dominant males when they are still young. Those that survive often carry on to become dominant males in their own time and continue the line of strong genes. As tough and difficult as it is to want to intervene and help, it is important to draw a line somewhere and allow nature to take its course. He hasn’t been seen for a number of days now.

On a really positive note, our wild dog pack has settled down in a den and produced a litter of 5 puppies increasing the pack size from 4 to 9 individuals. Unfortunately, the den is not visible from the road and our sightings still rely on the dogs coming to the road. No sightings of the puppies yet on drive, only videos from the trail camera that the warden installed to monitor them. This is really exciting news, and we can’t wait to start seeing them on a more frequent basis out there on the reserve. Watch the video from the trail camera of the puppies playing at their den.

Breeding plumage create stunning avian colours in drier winter conditions

Birding is wonderful at the camp right now. The grey heron and hamerkop have paid frequent visits to the waterhole looking for fish and frogs. The hornbills were seen inspecting their nest hole in the Marula tree so maybe they may start breeding earlier than expected. The barred owlets have been busy collecting and hunting insects in front of the hide spotlights but they seem to have moved from their hole in the big Marula tree by the kitchen. Winter times means that the aloes come into flower, and this then attracts the colourful sunbirds, the orioles and various other species that seek out the rich nectar. The scarlet chested sunbird male is in full breeding plumage now and its difficult to match his colours.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram @Antaresbushcamp to keep up to date with daily posts and reels from camera sightings.