What to expect every month of the year when game viewing; a guide compiled by MalaMala Game Reserve (Kruger National Park Region)
The first month of the year is characterised by lush vegetation that has been generated by the early summer rains. The grass is normally very long, particularly along the riverine vegetation. The larger of the herbivores, such as Kudu, Zebra and Waterbuck give birth at this time, the thick vegetation allows them to hide their young while they browse nearby.
Temperatures can soar into the late thirties of Celsius, but often thunder showers in the late afternoon bring welcome relief from the heat. The game is spread out because of the abundance of water and good grazing.
Considered to be one of the warmest months of the bushveld summer, February is characterized by the animals moving only when it is cool enough.
We start game drives later and often wake up earlier to steer clear of the formidable rays of the sun. The chances of thunder showers are not as great as those of January and the heat is drier at this time of year.
The general colour of the reserve is still green and the vegetation remains thick.
The heat diminishes slightly towards the end of March and the chances of rain is less this time of year. The young of the different animals born in the early summer now have sturdy legs and are better equipped in their escape from predators. The flow of the Sand River is still good and normally natural pan water is still easily available for the animals.
April brings with it the changes of the year and is often when the very short bushveld Autumn takes place. The pan water dries up a little and most of the animals will start relying more on the Sand River for their water.
The temperatures are quite pleasant, but can vary between very hot during the day to chilly in the evenings. The Round-leaf Teak and Combretums start changing their colours from green to yellow and brown.
This month is the turning point of the year and is the most definitive in the transformation from summer to winter. The temperature difference between day and night is more pronounced, the evenings require warmer clothing, but the days are usually very pleasant.
The ground water begins to dry up now and game starts concentrating closer to the river. This results in the predators moving to the favourite water points in hopeful anticipation of a successful ambush. The deciduous trees start to lose their leaves and the bush has a more open feel to it. The visibility is improving and one can look further into the bush from the road.
Winter is now upon us; when setting out in the morning it is better to "dress to strip". The temperature will increase by at least ten degrees Celsius from the time you head out on your drive till the time you get back. In the evenings you should take the necessary extra clothing along with you to ward off the dropping temperatures.
The flow of the Sand River starts slowing and most of the animals congregate around the deeper pools on the river to quench their thirsts. Predator viewing is at its best at this time of year, the lack of vegetation and established water points make tracking and finding the large cats easier.
The cooler days often result in the cats moving during the day in search of prey, and many a kill has been witnessed in broad daylight.
In many respects July is similar to June, the only difference is that it is drier, and animals such as the White Rhinoceros and Cape Buffalo make daily journeys to the river to drink. Elephants only leave the river bed in the evening when it is cooler, spending the day feeding on the remaining lush vegetation.
Towards the end of the month it does start to warm up slightly during the day, but the evenings are still cold.
August is by far the driest of the months, the temperature rises during the day and although the nights are still cool the days are very pleasant. There are many regular visitors to MalaMala who rate August as the best time of the year to come to see the animals. The grass is now a gold to brown colour and tends to thin out a good deal.
September is a month of great contrasts, the bush is still dry, but many of the trees begin to blossom; the brilliant red of the Weeping Boer-bean, the yellow of the Knobthorn trees or the combination of white and yellow of the Transvaal Gardenia.
All of these shower a brilliance over what is now a very dry month for the bush. The last of the winter chills are spent and the days can become hot again. Viewing continues to be exceptional with the lack of water and sparse ground cover.
The bushveld is now waiting in anticipation for rain, the days warm up enough to create thunder storms in the afternoons. The storms do not usually bring much rain, but certainly enough to start the early growth of the bush and flush a fresh green colour. The trees have mostly lost their blossoms and new green leaves shoot. satisfying the Giraffe, Kudu and other browsers.
The days now become warmer and the chances of afternoon showers greater. The general appearance of the bush is now green and the grass starts to coppice, this will attract the grazers like Zebra, Wildebeest and Buffalo. The flow of the Sand River will also increase and become more steady.
Plenty of migrating birds will arrive to take advantage of the summer conditions, some of them would have come from further north in Africa and some would fly all the way from Europe. The end of the month would see the arrival of the first Impala lambs.
This is indeed a busy time on the reserve, as the lambing of the Impalas and the calving of the Wildebeest gets into full swing. The predators take full advantage of the abundance of youngsters and the evenings are full of action.
The characteristic Woodland Kingfisher arrive and their trill like call joins the melody of songs as many of the birds begin to make their nests. The welcome thunder storms are followed by hatches of insects that birds and mammals take full advantage of.
The long hot days result in a great amount of movement in the cooler evenings as the animals appear to be taking full advantage of this time of abundance.