Summer is sound

Thanda Team

Winter usually ends with the crackling of bushfires, the rumble of dark smoke, and billowing. The sizzling of the last flames snapping out of cracks in charred bark and licking the dead branches, and the long-lasting rustle of the smoldering coals.

Then Summer comes.

A distant thrumming, gusts of wind whistling through the grass and trees, and the deep rumble of far-away thunder, slowly getting closer. And it hits like a wave rolling and crashing onto the shore. Heavy raindrops batter the ground and roofs, and the deafening racket forces you to stay quiet and wait. Run-offs start flowing along roads and rainwater streams out of gutters and splash onto the ground. Houses, rocks, and trees drip loudly and turned into waterfalls. A sudden sharp crack of thunder tears up the sky in a huge detonation that shakes to the core and even walls seem to be buzzing from the deflagration. The torrential rainfall continues for a while and progressively fades away. The deep rumble of thunder echoes on the horizon and the battering becomes a soft strumming until rain turns into a light sprinkle. The storm leaves a certain clarity in its wake; in the still air resonates only silence, and the irregular dripping of drops from leaves and branches.

And the sun shines.

Summer is here now, plants flourish in the warm and moist atmosphere, the waterholes are full, insects are buzzing, and birds are singing.

Mornings are filled with the descending mellow, bubbling notes of Burchell’s Coucals. Perching quietly on top of dense short trees throughout winter, the coucals become vocal during the rainy season. They even inherited the name “rain bird” for that reason, but they are pretty inaccurate when it comes to predicting rain, they just call throughout summer! Their calls intertwine in the clear morning air, high-pitch, low-pitch, like strings of pearls of different sizes and lengths thrown throughout the bush. On open patches of short grass, the whistled four notes of the Rufous-naped Lark can be heard loud and clear, breaking the morning silence and accompanying the setting sun, while the strident call of Crowned Lapwings and the clear clarinet-like one of the Senegal Lapwings can be heard day and night. Pans, dams, and wallows are surrounded by the buzzy, rolling, swizzling and churring phrases of different species of weavers, busy building their nests and displaying for the females. From the thicker, higher vegetation come the repetitive calls of cuckoos. The first one to be heard is usually the Klaas’s Cuckoo and its distinctive meitjie call. Soon it will be followed by the plaintive, fluty whistle of the Diederik Cuckoo, the loud and vociferous repertoire of the Jacobin Cuckoo, the slow, mournful, and monotonous three notes of the black cuckoo, and the ringing piet-my-vrou of the Red-chested Cuckoo, so distinctive of the African bush. Cuckoos’ calls are like the blooming of the Weeping Boer-bean, the return of the Lesser-striped Swallows, or the first shongololo crawling on the ground, they mean that winter is gone and it’s time for hot and rainy days!

In the afternoon heat takes over and the bush is quiet. Animals rest in the shade, and only the warm breeze blows softly in the thick air.

As I was driving back to base, going through the open veld, only a few zebras were still grazing the short grass. The stallion raised his head to look at me as I stopped while the mares kept grazing, indifferent. Around them, a young foal, still a few weeks old, was running frantically. For young zebras, playing can take the form of an exuberant burst of energy as the foal takes off running for no apparent reason. It is a way to enhance fitness, but also to simply enjoy life. The sun might be too early to set or too late to rise for small and fragile animals like a young herbivores. Moments of bliss need to be savoured and, in those moments, I can close my eyes and just listen. Listen to the muffled clump of the tiny hooves against the soft ground, tearing off tufts of grass, as the foal pants and squeaks joyfully, running circles around the other zebras that just stand, softly sighing and fluttering their lips while keeping their heads down, calmly grazing. It took some effort to start the game viewer again and even the soft roaring of the diesel engine felt like a bang breaking the tranquillity of the afternoon, but I just left the young zebra running circles behind me, and the peaceful moment fading out.

As the sun goes down together with the temperature, the bush comes alive again and the following night is all but silent.

A great experience is just to stay by a waterhole for a while and listen, or rather let yourself be engulfed in the cacophony of frogs’ calls.

The Bubbling Kassinas form a mat of sound with their short, ventriloquial calls; a male calling will trigger his neighbours and their choruses have a rippling, or bubbling, effect, rapidly spreading all over the waterhole. On this bubble mat, the Boettger’s Caco’s high-pitched clicks sparkle like little metallic specks while the long acute buzz of the Shovel-nosed Frog and the short, explosive whistles of the Painted Reed Frogs give it relief. Above them, the long piercing, and melodious trill of the Banded Rubber-frog rises loud and clear. From all around echoes the sporadic short trill of Plain Grass Frogs, like a mist surrounding the dam, from which emerges the short, irregular, and deep call, like the yapping of a dog, of Bullfrogs.

Frogs are not the only ones chorusing through the night, and summer nights wouldn’t sound the same without the deafening choruses of cicadas. The little bug(ger)s vibrates its tymbals to create a loud, high-pitched shrill that will sound like a lullaby for insomniacs played at max volume.

Hours go by and the night becomes quieter, in the early morning, only the distant whooping call of a hyena can be heard in the orange glow of the eastern horizon. Soon the sun will rise, the light will fill the bush and birds break the silence again.

And Summer goes on.

Story by: Vincent Hindson