Winter comes knocking at the door

Rain is falling on Thanda on this day in mid-April, and it is most likely the last rain we see before the end of the year. But it is not the sudden and violent downpour together with the rumbling thunder of summer storms; it is a long, continuous, and cold rain. Not the most appealing weather to go on a game drive, but let’s not forget, it is also our last chance to fill up the dams a bit before the dry and dusty winter.
The last Palaearctic migrants, the European Rollers, and the Red-backed Shrikes are gone. We could still see them perching and hunting insects until the beginning of April but, all of a sudden, they disappeared. The European Rollers started a journey that will take them over Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and back around the Mediterranean Sea, where they will find summer again and ideal breeding ground. The Red-backed Shrikes’ journey will take them even further up north, as far as Scandinavia and central Russia. The other birds are becoming quiet now; the long tails of whydahs and widowbirds are being shed, the weavers’ nests fall down and slowly crumble on the ground, the vivid colours displayed during the mating season are giving way to the drab eclipse plumages. Gone are the days of love and exuberance, now is the time for survival and blending in again. All is not gone nonetheless, and some birds will come back soon: African Stonechats and Ashy Flycatchers, notably, will be flying down the Drakensberg escarpment to come back to Thanda and spend their winter in the mild Zululand lowlands.
Reptiles also need to get busy before the cooler months. As puddles and run-offs gleam on the soaked dirt roads, tortoises come out of the bush to drink and fill up their bursa before they become dormant throughout winter. Terrapins also enjoy the new excess of water and start moving around, looking for the best and long-lasting waterholes.
The landscape is slowly changing colours. The tall, green grass that was dominant over the bush is now turning yellow and brown and starts bowing down. There is no doubt that the rain will spark a bit of green life again, but the great emerald-green bonfire that blazed during the summer months is going slowly out. But at the same time, the bush is also slowly opening up, as trees are progressively shedding their leaves, which will be quite helpful to spot mammals! It also gives hope to spot smaller, nocturnal wildlife in the coming days.
As the day go by, the rain is abating, and in the late afternoon, only thin curtain raindrops remain, shining through the rays of sunlight. The blue sky appears through the clouds, stretching away, and the temperature is cool and pleasant. The Sun no longer sets amongst the rolling hills of the south-western horizon but is getting closer to the Lebombo Mountain, radiating our open savanna with its warm colours. Now the rain has completely stopped, and the wet roads are blinding as they are radiant in the sunshine. This is how we go into winter in Zululand. Not with the cold, dark long days of the Northern hemisphere, but with petrichor, a sky clearing up, and colourful and gleaming sunlight.
Story by: Vincent Hindson

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