Written by: Anja Riise
Madikwe Game Reserve has been my home for just over two years now and has provided me with fantastic sightings and photo opportunities over the months. Going on a game drive is always exciting as you never know what you’ll encounter around the next corner. However, staying in camp at Jaci’s Lodges can some days prove to be equally as interesting, as the wildlife doesn’t always understand the concept of fences.
Summer is a great time for macro photography. After the first rains a great variety of insects and other little critters pop out everywhere. Extraordinary colours and lifeforms appear; butterflies around every puddle, tiny mantis, huge beetles, millipedes, scorpions and grasshoppers.
The abundance of tiny critters in turn attracts their predators. A group of banded mongooses has made the lodge their home and they go on patrol regularly enough for you to basically set your watch for their appearance. It’s very interesting to follow the family affairs of this group that we call the ‘Bandits’ and to see the youngsters grow up.
My favourite bird, the yellow-billed hornbill is also a resident species around the lodge. Unfortunately the couple that hang around outside my room enjoy knocking at the window at all hours of the day, as they can see their own reflection in the glass. However they are also used to people enough to be able to get some good close-up shots, which is great.
For a while there was an absolute racket outside my door every day and at first I couldn’t make out what was going on, as there were many different bird species voicing their opinions. I thought maybe there was a snake around, but the ever present tree squirrel wasn’t joining in on the noise, which would be unusual for them. I realised it was a Levaillant’s cuckoo chick begging for food from its arrow-marked babbler ‘parents’ – cuckoos are parasitic birds which lay eggs in the nests of other birds.
A crested barbet then decided to add to the chorus. It’s really interesting to see the enormous chicks being fed by their small, unsuspecting parents and it always amazes me that they don’t get suspicious when their newly hatched baby is bigger than they are.
Another noisy bird that’s become a real character in my life is Nathan, a Natal spur fowl. He’s so used to the guides’ presence by now that he doesn’t hesitate investigating your room if you leave it open, or even jumping up into your lap if your lunch looks interesting enough. While this may all seem funny and charming, his announcement of it being time to get up while it’s still pitch dark outside is less so. Especially since, for some unknown reason, all these noisy individuals have decided that the best place to stir up trouble is on my doorstep.
Luckily a huge water monitor has also taken up residency and has chosen a river bushwillow nearby as her nightly resting place, keeping the fowls at bay during the warmer days. She seems to be the boss of the garden, having all other animals scattering as she approaches to bask on the lawn. She loves it when the grass is being watered, running up to the hose pipe, enjoying the gentle spray on hot summer days.
Guests often ask if the elephant dung found around the lodge has been put there to fertilise the ground or to add some excitement. The truth is that at the end of the dry season, the elephants start feeling the stress of the drought and go looking for some greenery to eat around the lodges. One bull in particular has made a habit of breaking in and then slowly letting himself be herded out the main gate by us guides. Eventually the fence was moved closer to the river, making it difficult for the bull to push it down again. So, this behaviour was stopped before it got out of hand and became a real problem for us and the guests.
The numerous bushbuck around the lodge are very used to people and barely offer you a glance as you pass by. As the presence of humans most likely indicates a lack of other predators, the antelopes feel rather safe around us and even the females with tiny young will let you near enough for some nice close-up shots.
So, taking a walk through your own backyard in the bush can be a real photographic safari, with monkeys peeking down on you, frogs and lizards hiding in the foliage and snakes quickly slithering across the path in front of you. If you have your camera at the ready, you never know what you may be able to capture.