Monday, 30 March 2009

Leopards, leopards and more leopards!!!

Another windy morning and overcast skies, with a light drizzle to start, but that soon past and allowed us to get on with our game drives.

We really wanted lions, and soon picked up tracks for possibly a male and female lion, but the rain had ruined the tracks, and they were heading off the property, so decided to leave them. A bit further along the road, we came across some giraffe and waterbuck with a suckling calf, as well as more tracks for what looked like the Sohebele sub adult lions. Unfortunately they too were heading towards some private camps whose privacy we need to respect, so we couldn’t follow up there either. Feeling a bit down on our lion luck, and hearing that the young male leopard was still in control of his kill – except now in daylight he was acting aggressively towards the vehicles, I wasn’t sure what to do. That was until Giyani called to tell us that he had found Rockfig and Nkateko leopards down south. Minutes later I heard an even better call, Johannes had located Mangadjane male leopard a few hundred meters from the other two.

My guests really wanted to see Mangadjane again after having seen him two years ago on a visit to Motswari, so we headed straight there. We arrived just as he had finished eating a guineafowl (a chicken-like bird) he had caught minutes before while Johannes was following him. Mangadjane then turned his attention to some impala that were heading his way, he stalked close, but they unfortunately saw him and he realized his cover had been blown and then nonchalantly walked straight past the impala herd as if nothing had happened!
We left him to go and see Rockfig, a leopard my guests hadn’t seen, and needed to drive past Nkateko sleeping in a tree! We arrived at the Rockfig sighting, and she was walking through the bush, came up to a large marula tree, rubbed up against it in typical leopard fashion, and then proceeded to climb it and perch herself on the largest branch and started grooming! She later jumped to another branch and fell asleep.
This allowed us to go back to Nkateko who too was up a tree, but actively surveying her surrounds. After spending some quality time with our third leopard this morning, we decided to head home for some breakfast, seeing a couple of bull elephants on the way home, including one at reception.
Giyani also managed to spot his fourth leopard of the drive as it crossed the road 100m in front of him. He didn’t bother pursuing it into the bush, instead he too returned to the camp, and all the guests were then treated to the sight of about 25 elephants coming down to drink at the camp waterhole, and amongst them was a tiny baby.

That wrapped up another great morning at Motswari!

Impala, impala and more impala (in a tree!!!)

The day started out a bit warm and muggy, but a hot partly cloudy day with no rain was the forecast. The weather man was wrong. The clouds soon rolled in and the wind picked up, but the rain did hold off, only a bit of it falling after sunset, but it wasn’t widespread and the starry night sky once again dazzled us during boma dinner.

The game-viewing was a bit quiet on a big 5 front, but the general game seemed to, for once, not be minding the windy conditions. The drive started off with a big breeding herd of buffalo waking up from their nights slumber and moving into some woodland a few minutes from camp. We literally saw hundreds of impala throughout the morning drive, a good number of waterbuck sightings – including a young female that appeared to have survived a predator attack during the night; we instantly assumed either the young Sohebele lions, or the large Argyle male leopard – as only tracks for the latter were found, we can assume it was his work! And well leopard tracks seemed to be all that was being found, it was actually quite confusing with tracks for several leopards being picked up on our southern Vielmeter property – the leopard hotspot of the Timbavati. We saw a few hippos at Makulu dam, a lone bull buffalo still in the same spot he was yesterday in the dam – he must be ill to have spent so long in one place, over 24 hours in one spot! Heading home, we continued to see herd after herd of impala, more waterbuck, giraffe, no less than seventeen warthogs on our airstrip, and two elephants waiting for us back at camp.

Deciding that Vielmeter was the place to be if we wanted leopard, I headed down south for the afternoon. The first part of the drive produced two groups of male elephants, a good number of impala, two separate herds of zebra, warthogs and yes, more impala! Tracks for a male leopard were called in near the area I was operating, so I went to have a look, but couldn’t pick anything up, and then more male leopard tracks were found near one of Mangadjane’s favourite waterholes, Elephant dam. Assuming it was for him, I headed into the area, but we had no luck picking up any further tracks. Feeling a bit despondent with our lack of success up until sundowners, I consoled myself in the fact that on the last two night drives with my guests, we had found our own leopards. After some chameleons, we still came up empty handed on the leopard front….until of course we found a leopard in a tree, with a kill! I was overjoyed when my trackers spotlight caught the leopard perched in a large marula tree with a fresh impala kill! Assuming it was Rockfig who had been seen in the area late this morning, I headed straight towards the tree, only for the leopard to sit up with a start. It wasn’t Rockfig. It was a young male leopard that I do not think I have seen before, and was in fact seen this morning fighting with Rockfig! He seemed a bit nervous and jumped down the tree. We followed him for maybe 15 minutes as he kept moving (walking, not running – a good sign for a new leopard in the area) through the bush before he entered some rather thick stuff along a small drainage line. We didn’t follow up any further, and left the male to his own devices. We shall definitely go and have a look and see what is up tomorrow.

Heading home we managed to stay dry, and see a small breeding herd of elephant, two bull elephants, genet and a lovely sighting of a relaxed spotted-eagle owl…and of course, impala! It was quite funny that of all the impala we saw today, it was the one hanging in the tree that the guests got most excited about!

Sunday, 29 March 2009

21st - 23rd March: Great Sightings Continue, Leopards vs Python!

The rain has stopped, and we have stayed dry for the last few afternoons, and the game viewing has been great!!!

The afternoon of the 21st saw the sohebele pride being relocated sleeping in the sharalumi riverbed, as well as the big buffalo herd being seen before they crossed off of our traversing area.

Yesterday, 22nd March, started with the whole sohebele pride still together, and right up in the north of the reserve close to camp. they spent the morning sleeping - something the elephants werent doing. Herald found a large breeding herd of elephants drawing a lot of attention from the big males, one female clearly in estrous causing all the excitement. Our camp regular, Floppy, the relaxed old male with a floppy ear was there too, and apparently was seen mating with the female later in the morning.
Mangadjane male leopard was found in the morning with a young waterbuck he had killed. Herald went to see him feeding on the kill in the afternoon, but the bush was quite thick so it was difficult to get a good visual. Herald also managed to see a large herd of elephant at one of the waterholes, a male white rhino, and then a bit later, the same three lions that i saw 2 days back. This time they were quite deep into our reserve, and although the youngsters were still a bit nervous, a cautious approach allowed for a nice sighting of them drinking at one of the waterholes before they were left sleeping.
I had yesterday afternoon without guests, so decided to go and spend time with the Sohebele pride who lay at the end of an open area watching the impalas in the distance. on the same clearing and adjacent riverbed, i saw 2 small herds of elephant and alone male buffalo. after watching the elephants disappear, i returned to the 7 lions as they were getting active and set off into the sunset. after a kilometer or so, they decided that was it for a while and lay on the road (maybe enjoying the sunset???) before it got dark and i left them to it. On the way home there was a group of 9 buffalo where the lions had been earlier - it would have been interesting to have seen what would have happened if they were an hour earlier! Also got to spend some time photographing a beautiful Chameleon i found on the way home.

Then this morning, 23rd March, produced what sounds like the sighting of the month - 2 leopards (Mbali and her 17 month old daughter, Kuhanya) attacking a 3m long african rock python!!! Herald was the only one on drive (much to my dismay - would have loved to have seen that sighting), and together with our self-catering camp vehicles spent almost the entire morning watching the scene unfold. Mbali seemingly went into the bush and bit the python that started fighting back - Mbali then moved off and Kuhanya spent some time challenging the snake and whacking it with her paws - being very careful to avoid the lunging jaws of a python that was big enough to turn the tables and end up eating the young leopard!!! i have asked the guests to send me some pics, which i will post on our websire if i receive them...

News from this afternoons drive is that Kuhanya is still in the area, but the python has moved off....exactly how serious the wounds inflicted by Mbali are remains to be seen - but who knows what tomorrow will bring.
Such interactions are quite uncommon - based more on the scarcity of the 'prey' species involved. I have seen shots of leopards eating pythons before, and in fact, Mangadjane male leopard has twice (in my time at Motswari) been seen eating large rock pythons...Have a great day, and i will give you guys another update in a few days.


Chad Cocking
Motswari Guide

Nice Leopard Sightings Today

Another slightly chilly start to the day, but it warmed to about 33 degess Celcius by midday!

The morning started off with 2 elephant bulls feeding a few hundred meters from camp in the early morning light, they were quite relaxed and approached the vehicle within a few meters. A bit further down the road we heard some impala alarm calling, and picked up tracks for a female leopard, but we had no luck finding anything further. While on route to help track Mbali female leopard, Godfrey called to tell me he had found Rockfig and Nkateko while he was busy watching a hyena. I was on the opposite end of the reserve, but knew it was worth the trip to see these leopards. Godfrey's guests commented that it was the best leopard sighting they had had in many years of visiting the Kruger and other game lodges.

I arrived later in the morning after the two leopards had moved down into a drainage line, and with the thick vegetation i wasnt expecting much of a sighting down there - luckily i was wrong as we got to spend just short of an hour watching Nkateko. She first lay in an open patch of sand grooming, then started moving around, and came right past the vehicle. She went into a really thick clump of bush, so we decided to drive a bit further and see if we could find Rockfig. We had no luck, but as we drove out we spotted Nkateko in a cluster of spike thorn trees no more than 3m from us - she was motionless, clearly stalking something. We turned off and waited, and she pounced - i expected to hear the frantic clucking of a francolin, so when a sharp growl eminated from the bushes about 3m away from us, we all got quite a surprise! Nkateko had been stalking her mom, Rockfig!!!

We headed home after that excitement and got a few more elephants near camp. There were two giraffes and an elephant that spent much of the day in front of the lodge before afternoon drive.

Godfrey headed south and picked up that herd of buffalo once more, he also got to see Mtenga-tenga male rhino in the same area I saw him yesterday. I managed a sighting of a bull elephant, a lone bull buffalo sleeping in one of the waterholes, and some nice quality time with a herd of elephants with some babies. After a pleasent sundowner, i was making my way back home when Godfrey called to say that he had found Mangadjane male leopard. Godfrey was watching a pack of six hyenas when he heard the male leopard roaring close by, and within minutes had found him walking down the road!

I was really keen to respond, as some of my guests had seen Mangadjane on their last visit to Motswari and wanted to see him again. I turned around and headed over to the area, but unfortunately the leopard moved into some thick bush and his visual was lost. I still thought i should go look around and see if i could get lucky. I found one hyena walking down the road and right past us, and not 100m further my tracker picked up the eyes of a leopard with his spotlight! We had found our own leopard! Nkateko was just lazing on a termite mound, and we spent some good time with her as she tried to catch a moth, jumped up and posed on a fallen dead tree, and eventually treated us to the sight of her climbing up a large apple-leaf tree with amazing ease and grace! We left her sleeping in the tree and tried for Mangadjane again. We came across the pack of hyena's, with two cubs trying to suckle from mom, but while we were watching them we heard some impala's alarm call and then the unmistakable rasping, sawing roar of a leopard - he had clearly just failed a hunt, and was not far away! We tried our best ut came up empty handed - still, the sighting of Nkateko and the hyenas was worth turning around for!

During dinner we joined Earth Hour and turned off all the electricity in camp, the stunning array of stars keeping us company instead!

Friday, 27 March 2009

Big 5 Drive

The bush is about so much more than the Big 5. The clean air, the big blue skies, the night sky dotted wit countless stars, and i could go on and on. That being said, its still great to see these esteemed animals that make up the Big 5.

From an empty camp last night (anda rather enjoyable staff party!), we picked up a fair bit today with 10 new guests checking in. Most of the guests driving in got rewarded with the sight of the Sohebele pride of lions sleeping right next to the Timbavati access road! A great welcome to Africa I would say! If that wasn't enough, while the guests were checking into their rooms there was an elephant near the camp waterhole!

The afternoons drive started off a bit quietly, no surprise on a warm afternoon. I headed down south, hoping that the Machaton pride would still be in the area after hearing that they hada wildebeest kill this morning. Godfrey found a large breeding herd of buffalo up north in a nice open area and spent some good time with them, also seeing a few elephants as well before enjoying a nice sundowner.

Down south, we managed to tick off some zebras, had a good sighting of Mtenga-tenga our relaxed male white rhino after he had finished wallowing in the mud and was once again scratching himself on some nearby trees. He wandered with 1m of the vehicle before walking off into the setting sun. Not far from him were 2 lions; one of the Machaton females and one of the Timbavati males - absolutely bloated after gorging themselves on their kill earlier today; that unfortunately meant that they weren't too active, but still nice to see them.

After a nice sundowner we headed home and found two youngish hyenas sleeping on the road, and then a bit later manged to relocate on an unknown young male leopard that Elliot had found earlier. He was sitting behind a termite mound, quite close to a large herd of impalas. We decided not to disturb him and let him hunt in peace. Not 500m from the leopard we came across that same herd of buffalo crossing one of the boundary roads into the neighbouring property, some tiny babies amongst them too.

That left us only a couple of kilometers from camp, and with only elephant needed to complete the Big 5 for the drive. And well, of course we bumped into one! It was a great treat for the guests to see all 5 on their first drive, and what i liked was that it was rather unplanned, the animals all just happened to be on the road that i had chosen to go home on!

Now we wait to see what tomorrow brings!


Chad Cocking
Motswari Guide

Nkateko spoils us!

As we only had one guest in camp on Wednesday night, I decided to join Godfrey and the guest for a nice afternoon drive.

Godfrey stopped and chatted about many of the smaller things the bush has to offer, we saw a good number of beautiful birds, and a couple of antelope species. The guest really wanted to see leopard, so we went into the area where Rockfig and Nkateko had been seen in the morning. It was not long after arriving in the area that Nkateko was found sleeping in one of the marula trees just off the road.

She posed beautifully for us, and with a setting sun in the background, it made for an unforgettable sighting.

On the way back to camp we also got spoilt with a great sighting of a spotted eagle owl, as well as some elephants.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

A quiet morning turned around!

A nice sunny autumns day; a bit chilly in the morning, but it warmrd up as the suns golden glow hit the African bush.

With only one guest in camp last night, it was quite quiet out on the reserve. Although I wasnt driving for the lodge, I was out helping the film crew (based near Motswari, and here to film the lions and leopards of the Timbavati), and as always, lions and leopards were the order of the day.

It started out quietly, and then we found the fresh tracks of a male leopard walking down one of the roads that run parallel to the Sharalumi River. We did our best to follow them - they left the road, they came back onto the road etc., but without a tracker we weren't holding much faith. Lianne thought she saw leopard tracks coming back onto the road, so we jumped off and walked around, deciding that they were old tracks and not from the same male we were looking for. We walked back to the car and drove no more than 50m and there lying next to the road was a pride of lions! It would have been interesting if we had walked just a bit further looking for those leopard tracks!

We alerted Godfrey as to what we had found; all seven members of the Sohebele pride once again re-united, and in fact the first time we had seen them since Sunday. The two adult females and one or two of the youngsters looked well fed, but unfortunately the skinny young male was looking even worse now than he did a week ago; he surely cant go on much longer, something has to give, and at this stage things aren't looking good at all for him (although I recall saying the same thing three weeks ago and he is still here).

The one adult female walked down into the riverbed, and by the size of her belly, it can't be long before she gives birth. If the mating that took place in the first two weeks of the new year were successful, then the birth of the cubs should be any day now. As one of the other vehicles approached the sighting, I heard the tracker say 'Ingwe!' (the local word for leopard) he pointed just ahead. There, no more than 50m from the lions was a leopard wandering past - the same one we had been looking for!

It was none other than the impressive Mangadjane male out on his territorial patrol. Luckily for the leopard, the sleepy lions were unaware of his presence, and just as well - in November 2008 the same lions had chased the same leopard up a tree in almost exactly the same spot! So lighting didnt strike twice, and Godfrey got to go straight from a lion sighting to a leopard sighting and followed Mangadjane for a while until he went and perched himself nicely on top of a rocky outcrop adjacent to the riverbed and have a rest in the shade.

As the sun got warmer, the five young Sohebele lions decided to follow their two mothers down into the riverbed, although judging by the contact calls, they weren't too sure where the adults had gone! Luckily they picked up their scent trail and followed it in the right direction.

We then went and watched Mangadjane atop his post as he posed like a real king on his castle before we headed back towards the lodge for a well deserved breakfast!

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