Baby time in the bush
On a recent day trip to the Kruger National Park, I was thrilled to see baby impala lying, feeding and frolicking among the bright green grass – a sure sign that the halcyon days of summer in the Lowveld have arrived.
I always start looking for signs of our glorious summer in the months before it arrives, in August, September and October. And I am constantly amazed by the way in which nature is able to intuitively anticipate the coming of the first rains, the necessary precursor to summer's bounty.
The fluffy flowers of the knobthorns begin to bud, long-tailed cassias erupt in yellow bloom and wild herbs sprout, all well before the first clouds gather...
Far away, on distant continents, avian migrants sense, somehow, that it is time to start towards their summer home.
I know that within hours of the first downpour, flying ants will emerge, then the shongololos (millipedes). Then, when the sun comes out, the bird song is louder than ever, and in a day or two, green grass begins to push delicate tips through the soil and leaves cover the branches of winter.
It’s a peaceful, healing, hopeful time of year; the days become longer, the nights warmer, and the bush’s winter palette is slowly usurped by a million shades of green.
Nothing on Earth compares to the fragrant awaking summer signals, as life, patient, dormant life, makes its presence known.
It’s a peaceful, healing, hopeful time of year; the days become longer, the nights warmer, and the bush's winter palette is slowly usurped by a million shades of green.
Then, in about the second week of November, the woodland kingfisher arrives back in the Lowveld (and other areas in the north of South Africa) from Central Africa. Its trilling call (treet teerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr) is as integral to the bushveld’s summer soundtrack as the low booming of thunder as storm clouds gather, the incessant shouting of red-chested cuckoos (piet-my-vrou!) and the constant hum of the cicadas.
But it’s when the babies arrive that I know summer has really arrived!
The female impala drop their calves in a miracle of synchronised birthing. When the time comes, they unobtrusively move away from their herds into thickets of bush, and just hours later, their little calves are dotted around landscape. It's an annual marvel that never ceases to fill me with joy and wonder.
There are also lots of baby wildebeest, warthogs and birds around at this time of year, along with baby baboons, monkeys, elephant, giraffe and zebra (although their birthing seasons are much less precise and you can see their young throughout the year).
Right now summer, with its babies, birds and butterflies, feels eternal; there's no sign at all of autumn or winter. But when the grass takes on that golden tinge, you know these seasons, too, will come, and bring with them their own particular magic.