Rejuvenating Rain
By Ryan Hillier

2020 has begun with the most precious gift we could have hoped for … rain!

Over 100 mm has fallen on Kwandwe Private Game Reserve over the last two weeks and we continue to hope for more.

After three years of well below average rainfall, the drought had only continued during 2019, to the point where it became the worst recorded drought in the area since 1926. The situation for Kwandwe’s wildlife was dire.

And then a week into the New Year, two big thunderstorms rolled in and the rain pelted down. On such hard ground, puddles formed instantly and within minutes the water began gushing down streams and riverbeds that hadn’t felt a drop for a year.

Since then we have had a couple more downpours, and now we can really see the rejuvenating effects it has had on the reserve. It is unbelievable how life out here can change, quite literally overnight, and the knock-on effect as each successive step creates opportunities for other life.

Dams and river systems that had been bone dry for an entire year are now brimming with water, which is obviously vital for all the creatures out here. Prior to this it was only the Great Fish River and a handful of other dams that had remained with some water in them, severely restricting animal movements as they had been forced to stay in range of these spots. Now they can roam freely over the entire reserve again with water available in abundance once more. Beyond just places to drink, these water sources also allow things like terrapins far greater areas in which to reside and forage and they have been a common sight in puddles and dams.

Frogs have suddenly reappeared in droves and can be heard calling all over Kwandwe, the Bubbling Kassina’s in particular have been treating us to their pretty call. It is incredible how they manage to survive such harsh conditions, patiently waiting for the rain to bring them much needed relief.

Naturally, the vegetation is where the water was most needed and it has responded beautifully, there are flowers absolutely everywhere from blues and purples to bright reds and yellows! Lilies were some of the first to pop up immediately after the rain and in full bloom, their vibrant colours were in stark contrast to the bare surroundings.

Other plants soon followed suit and most of the open areas are now covered in carpets of flowering species like Anchor Karoo.

Green grass is something that we have been desperate of and finally, we’re seeing it come through. It has been sorely lacking in recent months and now finally there is some respite for grazing animals like white rhino, hippo and buffalo. Others have had their young in the last couple of months and the availability to good food is critical for the survival of the new generation of black wildebeest, zebra and warthog youngsters.

With all the food from succulent vegetation and flowers around the insect life is booming. The Spekbooms pink flowers have been full of moths and butterflies and the edges of water sources alive with mating dragon and damselflies. Dung beetles are rolling their dung balls away to get buried and CMR beetles are feeding on the yellow acacia flowers. Millipedes are busily moving around to forage on decaying plant matter while caterpillars are all over the fresh growth.

This, in turn, has led to a big increase in birdlife as they take advantage of such a bounty. Several pairs of blue cranes have been raising their chicks in recent weeks, and not only is more food now being available to them a huge help, but also the newly refilled waterholes are their preferred roosting spots. Ducks and waders have also ventured out to these places to forage.

Migrant species that were scarce prior to the rain have returned in full force and we had a particularly interesting sighting with a pair of Jacobin cuckoos in their courtship display a few days ago. They flew over us, calling as they did, and landed on a small tree whereupon the male caught a large caterpillar which he fed to the female. Flicking her wings and bobbing her tail she accepted his gift and then the pair mated before flying off, once again calling as they went.

Of course, the next step up the food chain are the birds of prey and we have been seeing plenty of them. While lots of species are ever present, there has been a marked increase in the number of peregrine falcon sightings along with both crowned and martial eagles and we have also had several sightings of brown snake eagles which is a little unusual.

The rain we’ve had is invaluable, it is life giving, and it is amazing to watch the ripple effect it has all the way up the food chain. While the drought is certainly not over yet, the way the reserve has responded to what we’ve had shows that it’ll keep getting better if we just get a little more.


Rain, rain at last!

This year began with the deep, comforting joy of seeing the heavens open in a deluge! After a punishingly dry 2019, the clock had hardly reset and some of the most glorious rain in years descended onto the parched earth of the Eastern Cape. With well over 100 mm of rain in the past 2 weeks, Kwandwe is rapidly morphing into a green-tinged wilderness and is full of activity.

Flowers, not seen in years, have popped their heads up, dusty plains are now covered in a green velvet of newly sprung grass, and new life is seemingly found behind every other bush. Waterholes have filled, and the smell of flowers and blossoms fills the air.

It really is as close to true magic as one could hope to witness, and if the signs of nature are anything to base our expectations on, then 2020 is set to be a truly magnificent year! Could there be a better time to visit? Surely not.