As has become my tradition, I like to end the year with a blog post about my highlights of the year. Just as our many visitors to the reserve tell me, the beauty of getting home and having to sort through their photos is that you get to relive the experience again. Going through a year of photos and selecting just a few is a daunting task. Mashatu has so much to offer including incredible landscapes, excellent predator sightings, fantastic general game and phenomenal birding.
After a year off in 2020, I was delighted to return to work. It’s hard to believe a year has passed. Travel has resumed and Mashatu has definitely not disappointed those who were brave enough to visit in this post-Covid lockdown year.
We only opened in March 2021 and the first thing that struck us all, was the amount of water around. After beautiful rains, we knew it was going to be a good year for the animals.
In addition to the rain there was an abundance of various storks including large flocks of yellow-billed storks, black storks and marabou storks – all here to enjoy the abundance of fish and insect life after the rains.
Despite the abundance of water everywhere, the elephants started visiting the photographic hide almost daily. This remains an incredible experience to guests and myself alike and one that I never tire of, no matter how many times I’ve seen them.
I had my first sighting of one of the two “lockdown” leopard cubs which were born in the beginning of lockdown. This cub was now already about a year old and bigger than his mother. Despite having been raised during lockdown with no vehicles around, he was incredibly relaxed around vehicles, clearly showing his faith in his mother – if mom shows no fear then it must be safe.
A new inclusion in the Mashatu portfolio is Tuli Safari Lodge Mashatu and I started exploring this unique and magical landscape for the first time. The area totally took my breath away and still does every time I am there. May 2021
May’s highlight was without a doubt a visit to the hide by the new lions that moved into the area during lockdown. The previous pride which regularly seen has moved further east and we were all just getting to know these lions. They were relaxed and completely unperturbed by the photographers clicking away at them at eye level.
More exploring in the Tuli area, this month at night and scouting for good “start photography” locations.
It was blood moon on the 27th May and where better to witness it, than from the wilderness that is Mashatu!
I look forward to this every year when the spurfowls and francolins start bringing their chicks to the hide for a drink. We have Swainsons spurfowl, Natal spurfowl and crested francolin all coming in daily for drinks, and all three species bring their chicks with them giving us the privilege of watching them grow.
Rutting season for the impalas starts around June and madness is in the air, as the male impalas start fighting for territories and females.
Enormous flocks of red-billed queleas are an annual spectacle at Mashatu. The most numerous bird species in the world, these flocks can be heard flying even before you see them. This year they returned to their old nesting site on Mashatu Game Reserve. It’s mind-blowing to watch them fly in at the end of a day and watch as millions of birds settle in for the night.
We see so many adorable baby elephants, but this was one of my favourites seen at the hide, merely a week or two old…cuteness overload.
August was a mind-boggling month and I’ve had to leave some highlights out, like the astounding number of leopard sightings and the glorious red skies. Instead, I will include my first sighting of the pair of Verreaux’s Eagles in the Tuli area, where they have a nest. This rocky landscape is the perfect habitat for them.
While seeing African Wildcats is not unusual at Mashatu, seeing one in beautiful morning golden light is unusual so I’ve included this photo as a highlight.
The vlei (marsh) area surprised us all. Normally by June the marsh has dried up completely, but thanks to the previous year’s heavy rains, it’s still green and full of water, attracting a myriad of water birds not normally seen here this time of the year.
While cheetah sightings have been a little lower than previous years (probably due to the increase in leopard and lion numbers), we had numerous good sightings of cheetahs in August.
My September highlight was most definitely the hide. As things started to dry up, the variety of species coming in for a drink increased, including a visit by a leopard.
Our first storm. In this case it was all thunder and lightning and very little rain, but beautiful to witness the lightning of the vast landscape.
Gregarious in autumn and winter, Guineafowl start to split into smaller groups and breeding pairs for summer. This is when the males try to assert dominance to impress the hens.
We’ve come full circle and the migrant birds have started returning. At the time I write this, we still await the call of the sound of summer, the woodlands kingfisher, but one has been spotted. The first to arrive back are the intra-African migrants and we know summer has arrived.
A new pride of 13 lions have been spotted in the Northern part of the reserve, seeing them for the first time was a big highlight.
To end the year, and in my second last hide session for the year, this female leopard came in for a drink.
2021 you have been good to the Mashatu family. To all our guests that visited in 2021, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. For those planning to visit in 2022 we can’t wait to welcome you. Every year is unique and special at Mashatu, and we can’t wait to see what 2022 brings.