Wed, 03 Jun 2015

May in the bush

Around this this time of year, we often hear a ferocious roaring sound out here in the bush. The first time you hear this sound, you could be easily forgiven for thinking it could be lions fighting. However, this huge noise is coming from the humble, often under-appreciated Impala (Aepyceros melampus) Between two autumn lunar cycles, often around April and May, male impalas in Madikwe are rutting. Rutting is a breeding season during which time male impalas stake their claim on females, while also defending the area that the females are in. Dominance is decided amongst males by clashing of horns, frantic chasing and also displays of size and condition. Once dominance has been decided, the victor will mate with as many of his females as possible, during which time he loses his focus on food, water and dangers which may be lurking in the form of predators, so males are at great risk during these times. Other males who are not currently in prime position within the breeding herd tend to spend a lot of time jousting between one another until the dominance structure in these other bachelor groups is also established. Once the initial top male is exhausted, another male, who has been patiently waiting in the wings, will come in and take over from where he left off. This is just one of nature’s amazing ways of ensuring that the strongest genes survive and the lambs that will be born around October/November time will stand the best chance of survival.

Another change at this time of year is that many of the migratory birds that joined us for our summer have departed, heading back to warmer climates to avoid the cold winter here in Madikwe. One of these birds is the European Bee-eater (Merops apiaster)A beautiful little bird of around 24cm is a common visitor to Madikwe during our summer months, but have now returned to their summer breeding grounds. As their name suggests, they do feed on honey bees, dispatching any stingers by knocking the insects against a hard surface before they are consumed, although their diet does include other insects such as flying termites and dragonflies, all of which are often caught on the wing at altitudes of up to 150mtrs. These birds are highly gregarious, sometimes forming flocks of up to 100 individuals and roosting in leafed trees in large groups, often sleeping shoulder to shoulder. They usually form monogamous pairs lasting for several years, and sometimes even for life, while usually nesting in colonies of between 10-30 pairs, but can be found in greater numbers. We are sad to see these colourful little birds leave, and we will miss their soft chirruping calls often carried on the air, but we look forward to welcoming them back again around October.

We have a predicted cold front just around the corner, so all of the rangers here at Tau have dug out their thermals, but are excited to see what magical interactions we are going to witness, as the grass dies off, and the leaves begin to don their new season's colours.

Until next time…