September was a very rewarding month in terms of weather and wildlife sightings. The temperatures were wonderful even though we did have some windy days causing a lot of mayhem in camp. Without a doubt, towards the end of October, we felt the temperatures heating up somewhat.
Landscape and Vegetation
The vegetation in the Zambezi Valley has been preparing for the coming rains this month. Many species such as the woolly caper bush, shaving bush combretum and the acacias are coming into flower. One species to note is the Natal mahogany that produces small and inconspicuous, but beautifully scented, flowers. Its aroma becomes stronger in the evening and sweetens the night air.
The sausage trees are now growing their amazing fruit, hanging just like huge sausages from the branches. Still green and ripening, the fruit are already being eaten by any animal that can get at them. Earlier in the month the beautiful deep red flowers of this tree provided a food source for everything from baboon to eland, as they dropped to the ground after being pollinated by bats.
Going further inland the mopane veld is barren, supporting very little life, as the trees are leafless and the ground bare. This area, while not great for game viewing, is beautiful, with amazing colours as the dead leaves create a mat of reds and yellows and rich browns.
Closer to the river, the large fever-berry crotons are now producing their leaves in anticipation for the coming wet season. Earlier on in the month, the Ruckomechi River floodplain, which is covered in a think forest of these trees, was bare, and leafless, with the fallen leaves covering the ground in a thick layer. This area has now transformed into a thick overgrown forest.
The dryness of September came with some good game sightings. We didn’t need to go far when looking for plains game; in fact just outside camp at Parachute Pan, large congregations of zebra, warthog and impala were a common sighting. It is always wonderful to watch the animals rolling in the dust and mud while elephant search out for albida pods and cross the Zambezi for the lush green grass on the island.
For four days we enjoyed the sight of two young cheetah on the Ruckomech River. It is amazing how an open savannah species has adapted to life within the croton trees. We believe it has to do with the lion presence, the robber baron that terrorises other predators. We often bump into 'our' particular lion pride, which consists of two females, two males and three cubs.
Guiding has never been better; imagine the thrill of bumping into mother leopard and three cubs, and seeing them come close to being discovered by a pack of 25 wild dogs including the 11 puppies. We really are enjoying better sightings of both cats and dogs at present.
September was an exciting month as far as birding was concerned. Some of the migratory species, already arrived, are now establishing themselves and some are well into their nest-building and egg-laying stages. One of these species is the beautiful carmine bee-eater.
The eastern nicator has stepped out and expanded its repertoire, moving from its single note out-of-breeding season call to its melodious liquid breeding call, only heard for the few months prior to and during the rains.
Red-throated twinspots, always shy, are starting to be seen more regularly - a stunning, small special for the area. A return visit, albeit brief, by eight great white pelicans, which were last seen two or three years ago, was a pleasant surprise, but the birds have since moved on.
We continue to have our eyes drawn skyward by the large flocks of open-billed storks as they perform their ever-graceful ‘ballet’, seemingly for the pleasure of it.