Safari for Real guide and author Lex Hes savours the arrival of spring and all it promises
As we move into August, springtime in the region of the Kruger National Park in South Africa comes slowly and subtly. The bush is dry and brown and dusty, and will get dryer still. There are few leaves on the trees, so they all look dead, the grass is brown and the only splashes of colour to break the monotony are the evergreen trees along the riverbeds.
But there are stirrings of life in this desolate landscape: scattered here and there throughout the bush, the wild pear tree (Dombeya rotundifolia) is starting to burst into flower – large creamy white bunches that stand out clearly against the dryness, announcing the arrival of spring.
In the clay soils, the Knobthorn tree (Vachellia nigrescens) is flowering, its soft pale yellow catkin-like flowers hanging from the ends of thorny branches, providing much-needed nourishment for hungry herbivores.
Coral trees (Erythrina lysistemon) produce stunningly bright red flowers which attract sunbirds to their nectar-laden petals.
Birds are becoming more vociferous. Greyheaded bush-shrikes call daily, their monotonous calls signifying the setting up of breeding territories. From the tops of leadwood trees, Kurrichane thrushes sing their beautiful song first thing in the morning. From the Phragmites reeds in the river, little rush warblers give their speeding-up chuck-chuck-chk-chk-chkchkchckchk calls.
August heralds the return of the first migrant birds, with one of the first to arrive being the Wahlberg’s eagles, coming in from north Africa and arriving in pairs at the same nesting sites that they have bred at for decades. Red-breasted swallows fly around termite mounds in search of potential nesting sites and yellow-billed kites visit the camp looking for scraps.
At night, there are other stirrings of life. Within a few minutes of switching a light on in the camp, insects (mostly moths and beetles) come fluttering helplessly out of the darkness. This is the first trickle of insects that will become a flood when the rains come. Out in the bush, in holes under the ground, in hollow trees, beneath the bark and underneath stones, insects in various stages of development are waiting to emerge from their winter development.
A close look at the lifeless looking branches of the leafless trees reveals leaf-nodes swollen with cells ready to burst into new leaf. In the bellies of many of the mammals are small fetuses that will be born at about the time that the grasses and leaves has reached their full growth towards the end of November.
This is an exciting time of new life and new beginnings!
Lex Hes is a renowned photographer, author, naturalist and guide, and is a director-guide of Safari for Real. Images copyright Lex Hes.