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Mashatu’s Secret Summer

Mashatu Game Reserve, located as it is in the eastern corner of Botswana, has long been one of our favourite wildlife destinations.  Like many other  reserves in this part of Southern Africa, Mashatu experiences a dry season during the months of the southern winter, usually May to September.  Very little rain falls during this time which can result in standing water becoming scarce.  Amongst many photographers, including ourselves, it is a good time to visit, as the game viewing is strong, and reliable, and the famous, low-level Matebole hide is at its best for its ground-level opportunities.  The colours of the dry season are yellow grasses, rich red and brown earth tones, and blue skies.

 

But, there is a complete green transformation in the summer!

African elephant, youngster, Botswana. Canon EF 600L f4 IS ii and 1DX. Shutter speed 1/800sec at f4.5, iso 1250. Click for larger view

Later in the year, usually sometime in November or December, the first summer rains start to fall.  Mashatu is located in a semi-arid part of the Limpopo River Basin, and the annual rainfall may range from 300mm to 600mm, the majority of which comes from localized thunderstorms.  The start of the rainy season greens up much of the Mashatu environment, most especially those with the grasses and shrubs that grow only in the summer, all over the reserves lower lying areas.  These greens make pleasing backgrounds for our wildlife images.

Cheetah female, Botswana. Canon EF 500L f4 IS ii and 5D Mark 4. Shutter speed 1/1250sec at f5.6, iso 3200. Click for larger view

Early in the season, the colours of the grasses are at their richest, and they make great backgrounds for our wildlife images.

Leopard female, Botswana. Canon EF 500L f4 IS ii and 1DX. Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f4.0, iso 200. Click for larger view

All the animals that we usually see during the dry season can still be found at Mashatu – which makes it a little different than some protected areas in nearby South Africa, where the summer rains can make game viewing much harder.  

Black-backed jackal, subadult, Botswana. Canon EF 600L f4 IS ii and 1DX. Shutter speed 1/250sec at f4.0, iso 2500. Click for larger view

There is also more to the rainy season at Mashatu though, than just the brilliant greens.  Lemon yellow-coloured flowers, called Devils Thorn (Tribulus terrestris) spring up all over the reserve.  The flowers transform the landscape, adding a magical feel to the scenery.

Bat-eared fox, Botswana. Canon EF 600L f4 IS ii plus 1.4x EF extender and 5D Mark 4. Shutter speed 1/2500sec at f7.1, iso 400. Click for larger view

The rainy season is also a time when some of the animals are moving with youngsters.  During the summer, especially the early part of it, we enjoy viewing baby impala, baby wildebeest, black-backed jackal cubs and also young bat-eared foxes.  

Chacma baboon, Botswana. Canon EF 500L f4 IS ii and 1DX. Shutter speed 1/1600sec at f5.6, iso 1000. Click for larger view

The Devils Thorn flowers are not only pretty, but are fed on by some of the mammals that inhabit Mashatu.

Sub-adult cheetah. Botswana. Canon EF 600L f4 IS ii and 1DX. Shutter speed 1/500sec at f4.0, iso 1250. Click for larger view

In the last five years or so, Mashatu has gradually become one of the better locations in southern Africa, to see cheetah.  There is a healthy population in the area.

Sub-adult spotted hyaena. Botswana. Canon EF 100-400L IS ii and 5D Mark 4. Shutter speed 1/800sec at f7.1, iso 100. Click for larger view

Spotted hyaena, as well as leopard and lion, also occur in the reserve. 

Migrant birds also choose this time of year to visit Mashatu.  There are a reasonable variety of them.

Amur Falcon, female, Botswana. Canon EF 600L f4 IS ii and 1DX. Shutter speed 1/2500sec at f7.1, iso 400. Click for larger view

Some, like the Amur falcon pictured above, may come and go throughout the summer.  Their presence is associated with localized rain fronts and the insect activity that follows.  Others, like the Great Spotted Cuckoo and Levaillants Cuckoo, will spend the whole summer in the reserve.

There is yet another thing that we like about the rainy season at Mashatu, and that is the clouds that sometimes build up.  Thin clouds act as very effective and welcome filters of the strong light which can otherwise become overly bright.  

Sub-adult cheetah. Botswana. Canon EF 100-400L IS ii and 5D Mark 4.  Shutter speed 1/1000sec at f8.0, iso 1600. Click for larger view

We are never quite sure of our favourite time to visit Mashatu.  The dry season, May to October, offers predictable light, the possibility of numbers of animals visiting the waterhole at the underground hide, and moderate midday temperatures.  In contrast, the summer season, November to April, adds fresh colours to the scenery, along with migrant birds and some baby animals.  Of course, there is always the chance of rain during the summer, so we make sure to stay for long enough that we have time on our side.  Fortunately we don’t have to only pick one time of year for our visits.

Images in this blog post where taken with these lenses: an EF 600 f4 IS ii, an EF 500 f4 IS ii, an EF 100-400 IS ii and an RF 24-105 L IS.

 

 

 

 

 

About the Author:

I am a guide and a photographer, with a deep interest in all things to do with nature. I am based in Cape Town, South Africa, but travel often to wild places whilst leading photographic safaris, and enjoying the outdoors.

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