The arrival of summer in the Lowveld Region surrounding Nyumbani is a time of great excitement amongst residents. The temperature has been building for weeks as winter fades to a distant memory, and boiling cumulus clouds build in the sky above the Drakensberg Escarpment to the West. Rain is on it’s way … and we know it is only a matter of time.
Plants appear in abundance and the grey and brown shades of winter in the Bushveld slowly begin to disappear. The chlorophyll in the plants restarts the process of photosynthesis and over time roots and stems are replenished to enable life to prosper even in the event that we have a drier than normal summer, and may indeed experience a drought. We associate summer with an abundance of beauty and splendor in the Bush. With increasing moisture in the soils we revel in the new carpet of grass that miraculously appears and the expanding tree canopies await the return of the migrant birds from North and Central Africa as well as Europe. The tress begin to produce their crop of fruits and seeds and thus the cycle of life repeats itself. Food is plentiful for mammals, birds and indeed humans alike.
Summer is a time when life returns to the bush. This week on my travels around the Nyumbani Estate, these first signs of the return of summer had a profound effect on me. As guides, we await especially the arrival of the new born antelope, specifically the impala young, as this truly represents the return of summer. During April most territorial males have established their patch to hold and defend from interlopers. They begin their display and advertise their territories to the surrounding females that, almost at once and in unison, come into oestrus. The sounds of explosive barking and grunting fill the April air as the process plays out.
Syncronised mating by the dominant male with the females in his harem then begins which gives rise 7 months later to an explosion in the number of fawns, which are all born within a 2-3 week period in November, just as the rains arrive in the bushveld. Mass birthing is a clever survival strategy for impala as the proliferation of new born confuses predators and ensures that a large proportion of the young survive their most vulnerable stage. No wonder then that the impala, despite being dismissed all to casually by visitors as a result of it’s extensive numbers, is viewed by conservationists as the “perfect antelope” Indeed fossil evidence suggests that the modern impala has remained unchanged for over 6.5 million years and indeed is the only indigenous South African mammal to have increased it’s numbers and broadened it’s range over the last century.
This is my favourite, most eagerly anticipated time of the year. The freshness of the veld and the air rejuvinates you as the dusty air of the winter is cleaned and you can smell the freshness of new life around you. As I write this blog entry, a Woodland Kingfisher has arrived on a tree branch outside my office window. He looks rested after his long trip down from Central Africa where he has over-wintered. His shrill call will be my constant companion as I journey across Nyumbani in the months to come.