Friday, 31 July 2009

29th, 30th, and 31st July – Cheetah and Cub!!!

No, you didn’t misread that, we had an amazing sighting of a cheetah and her three-month old cub this morning, but before I tell you about that, there was some other good game viewing over the last four drives.

I started driving again on Wednesday afternoon, but it followed a relatively quiet morning, with just a herd of buffalo and a couple of herds of elephant about. Johannes also found a young female leopard, Shongile, not far north of Motswari camp, but there was not much other news on our animals. It clearly didn’t matter, as Wednesday afternoon was a pretty good drive!

I managed to tick off steenbok, impala, a herd of about eight kudu bulls, and giraffe before I got to Argyle dam, and then I heard of a rhino sighting in the south, near Sweetwater pan. As my guests had asked for rhino, I decided to head that way, but not before seeing some waterbuck, hippo and a small breeding herd of elephant near Mbali dam. Heading along the Timbavati access road, we came across another herd of kudu and two very relaxed zebras right on the side of the road. We proceeded and found a group of eight buffalo bulls and another herd of zebra, but it was getting dark, so we left them to go and see Nhlangula male white rhino. He wasn’t far from Sweetwater pan, so we followed him until he went and quenched his thirst there, as the light slowly faded around him. We left him in peace, but then moved towards Makulu dam where the three Sohebele young male lions were resting. I unfortunately got there a bit late, and two of the lions had moved to the waters edge, while the third just rested in the grass, quite inactive as they had been most of the afternoon. There were four buffalo bulls waiting for us at the camp when we returned.

Thursday morning was also a bit quiet, but Andrew found a large herd of buffalo on Java airstrip as they fed in a northerly direction towards Mbali dam. There was also a herd of elephant feeding in the mopane’s near Elephant Crossing, and a good number of giraffe all along Giraffe Kill rd, including several very dark males. As I drove past Mbali dam on the way back to camp, the buffalo herd were approaching the water, so together with Herald we watched as they rushed to the water to quench their thirst. Other general game included vervet monkeys, impala, kudu, a number of warthogs and he ever present steenbok and duikers.

In the afternoon, we were all keen for some leopard, and our guides managed to get lucky and find two! After some zebra on the airstrip, and the usual impala, kudu and waterbuck, I got a call telling me that Mbali female leopard was near Mbali dam, so I headed straight over there. I arrived as she moved into the thickets on the riverbank, but got to see the herd of buffalo and a herd of elephant on the opposite bank. Mbali eventually went over the dam wall and into the thickets near Mvubu crossing. We soon found out why when two bushbuck came running out of the thickets! Mbali appeared a minute or two later and wandered right past us and carried on along the eastern bank of Peru dam to the north, we left her to it and made our way south. Johannes stayed up north and after viewing Mbali, found where some hyenas had chased Kuhanya female leopard up a tree, not too far away from Mbali. Andrew went to have a look at her, but I resisted the urge and carried on to the south where the three Timbavati male lions had been found near the confluence of the Zebenine and Nhlarulumi riverbeds.

After seeing another herd of elephants and having a drink I went to go and see the lions, that had gotten active since Godfrey left them. I arrived and relocated them as they were moving through the bush, seemingly intent on following a herd of buffalo that had been in the area, but they soon lay down, and we left them as they got up and carried on moving to the west. I also saw a white-tailed mongoose last night.

Friday morning was my last drive for a few days, and it ended off my guests stay perfectly! A couple that I was driving had seen a female cheetah when they were driving in to Motswari on Wednesday, and despite her tracks being seen on Thursday morning, she was not found in the area of Voël dam. But we got lucky on Friday, and as we knew she had a cub (from the tracks), we knew that she wouldn’t go far. I was planning to go and check the area a bit later, but a guide from the neighbouring lodge called me just before 7am to tell me that he had found the female cheetah and her cub. I hurried over and got greeted with the sight of a small cheetah cub sitting on a termite mound, and the mother not too far off! It was the first cheetah cub I have ever seen in the wild, so it was as special a moment for me as it was for the guests! Unfortunately the mother and cub were not sticking to ‘typical’ cheetah habitat, and walked through a Mopane woodland, but they would rest every now and then and we got to take some pictures! The mother spotted some impala, but didn’t give chase. A little later, a hyena came wandering over to them and the cheetahs trotted off, but we relocated, and they were followed most of the morning until they crossed the Timbavati access road and into the Klaserie. What was interesting to note was that the female cheetah was fitted with a radio collar, but I am not aware of any cheetah research going on in the Timbavati, so she must have come from outside; and that is the beauty of having an open system with the neighbouring reserves and the Kruger, you just don’t know what you will find! I will keep you updated if we see her again, but is till treasured only my second cheetah sighting in over 2 years, especially considering that there are only an estimated 200 left in the Kruger park!

After that excitement (and all the other Motswari vehicles got to see them before they crossed off our property), we took it easy, and managed to find some baboons that the guests wanted to see, a crocodile at Concrete Crossing, some nice birds, a hippo’s nostrils at Vyboom dam, impala, a nice herd of zebra in the company of three male giraffes and kudu. A female leopard was seen heading east away from Klipdrift crossing, but when Herald and I drove around the area, all we found were waterbuck, kudu and impala, but had no luck finding the leopard, maybe the guys will have some luck in the afternoon. Earlier in the morning Herald had found a herd of buffalo on Western cut line, and Palence saw some elephant.

So, with the Big 5 and cheetah being seen over the last few days, things are hopefully looking good for the month ahead!

18th – 28th July – The Week that Was…

Howdy! I am back from a weeks leave in Johannesburg, and I can tell you that I much prefer the warm weather in the bush!

The game viewing at Motswari seems to have been pretty good over he last few days, and the good news is that no more of our lions were killed, except one of the young Machaton pride cubs that seems to have been killed by a leopard, probably Rockfig Jnr female that was seen skulking around the den site not long ago.

The lion sightings were not too bad, and the three Mahlathini male lions were seen feeding on a buffalo for several days, and this seemed to assist our attempts at getting them used to the vehicles, as they are no doubt here to stay. From the tracks, it appears as though the Sohebele pride stumbled upon the carcass and were chased off, although evidently the three young Sohebele males went and fed on the buffalo carcass. Unfortunately this also led to a split in the Sohobele pride, and the three males were seen on their own for the remainder of the week, and the adult female and the young female spent time on their own.

Leopard viewing remained good, and it was pleasing to note that the impressive Argyle male leopard was seen on at least four occasions up north, and is now getting very relaxed with the vehicles, even during the day. Godfrey noted that he was again eagerly following the scent trail of something; presumably a female leopard, but so far, no mating has been recorded. Mbali female leopard was seen with a fresh impala kill up north, a female leopard was seen at Vyboom dam, and Rockfig female leopard was seen for the first time in weeks all the way down south, so things seem to be going well! Shongile young female leopard also popped up on the odd occasion.

There were also two sightings of a female rhino with a sub-adult calf up in the north, and the Nhlangula male rhino was also sighted. The elephant herds and buffalo herds have also been rather prevalent as the dry winter months push on.

So all in all, not a bad week, and I now have another month of game viewing to look forward to, so be sure to keep on checking the blog for the latest updates!

Photographs for this post were taken by Johannes Makarhi, one of our guides.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

18th July - Sohebele Pride's Full Tummies!

Just a short note, I have just heard from the guides that got back from their drive this evening that they saw the Sohebele pride of lions down south on Double Highway and that they are all fat bellied after having had a good meal; a large kudu! This is great news, and sounds like it was part of a really good afternoon with Mbali female leopard also being seen, a breeding herd of buffalo at Mbali dam, as well as a nice breeding herd of elephants!

17th July – Klaserie Pride of Lions with Buffalo Kill

Friday proved to be another very god day of game viewing for the Motswari guests, and barring rhino, great sightings were had of all of the other members of the Big 5.

The first thing I heard when I walked out of my house this morning was a chorus of alarm calls from a herd of impalas near the northern end of the airstrip; either some lions had wandered past camp, or more than likely, there was a leopard nearby. We headed over there to check what was going on, and were greeted with the sight of four hyenas of the resident clan on the airstrip, their focus was on something, but we couldn’t find anything. There was also a large male giraffe walking on the airstrip just as the first rays of the sun started to colour the landscape. There were also five buffalo bulls found not far from camp.

Elliot and Herald went to have a look at Mbali female leopard and her kill from last night, and in the interim, she had been joined by her daughter Kuhanya. Kuhanya was up the marula tree playing with the little pieces that remained of the carcass while Mbali was lying on the ground nearby. My guests and I had seen great leopards over the preceding days, and I was in the mood for some large herbivores…or at least I was until I heard the radio call that a pride of six lions had been found on southern Vielmetter with a fresh buffalo kill! This pride was tentatively identified as the Klaserie pride of lions that very occasionally come into the Timbavati from Klaserie in the west. The last time we saw this pride was almost a year ago when they too killed a buffalo bull in a similar area, but the pride was much larger then, and also far more nervous of the vehicles. I have my suspicions that the Mahlathini males might have originated from this pride. Anyway, I headed south, and after seeing some good general game on the way, including warthogs, impala, waterbuck, baboons and kudu, we arrived at the sighting and got to watch one of the females busy feeding on the buffalo that they must have killed at some stage during the night. There were three other females that we could see, but they were spread out lying in the shade and in the long grass.

At Makulu dam there were more giraffe, waterbuck, two large crocodiles, and some distant hippos. Giyani also saw the five members of the Sohebele pride of lions at Mbali bush braai where they were having a drink an the southern end of Mbali dam, but according to him, they still haven’t eaten and were looking very thin. Elliot then bumped into three leopards on his way back to camp, Argyle Jnr female leopard and two of her three sub-adult youngsters. She was heading back towards Motswari airstrip, an area she had been in the morning, and a good sign that she possibly made a kill.

The afternoon was just as good, and I managed to relocate Mbali and Kuhanya female leopards, still in each others company, but they had finished their steenbok kill and were near Francolin pan. I didn’t spend too long with them, instead I went to go and have a look at a herd of about 200 buffalo moving away from Lily pan through the Mopane thickets. It was great to be surrounded by these gregarious animals. Godfrey and Elliot had a great sighting of a breeding herd of elephants drinking near Concrete crossing, and it is nice to see the herds moving back into the area; they have been a bit scarce over the last couple of days. There was also good general game near Mbali dam, with waterbuck, a herd of giraffe and lots of impala being seen.

Earlier in the drive, Elliot had found a drag mark for a leopards kill, and found where Argyle Jnr female leopard had stashed an impala kill on the banks of the Sohebele riverbed just west of our camp, and Elliot also got visual of at least two leopards, but it was in a really awkward spot, and there was no good visual to be had of the leopards and their kill, so he left the area.

The highlight of the drive for me though was to return to the Klaserie pride of lions on their buffalo kill, and to watch all six lionesses feeding on the remains together. The sights and sounds of this were quite something. They were much more relaxed this afternoon and evening, and didn’t pay any attention to the land rovers. It will be interesting to see if this pride ventures into our western sections a bit more regularly in the near future!

The drive then closed with four bull elephants drinking at Trade Entrance pan near camp, and we also had thee buffalo bulls visit the camp waterhole during boma dinner to round off a great day.

I am going on leave in the next few days, and as a result won’t be going on game drives for a while, so I will be back with my blog updates at the end of the month.

Until then, keep well!


Chad Cocking
Motswari Field Guide

Friday, 17 July 2009

16th July – Super Sightings of Leopard

Thursday proved to be another good day in the Timbavati, and we had some great sightings of our wonderful leopards yet again. I seem to be on a bit of a roll when it comes to finding leopards without even trying and today this proved to be the case once again. While Godfrey and Johannes were in the eastern sector tracking the five Sohebele lions, I was checking up north for any sign of any of the leopards, and not for the first time, I wasn’t disappointed. While approaching Klipdrift crossing at the southern end of Vyboom dam, we spotted movement on the far bank, and while my first thought was leopard, I passed it off as a duiker, but when we stopped to have a look through binoculars, we saw that this ‘duiker’ had spots, and it was in fact a leopard! We drove down into the crossing and quickly identified the leopard as Kuhanya female leopard, but we got more than we bargained for when we also spotted Mbali female leopard resting on a rock in the golden morning light about 70m away!

Kuhanya then ran over to mom, and we got to watch the two of them interact very playfully for the next 30 minutes or so, and it was the first time in along time I have seen this interaction between these two lively leopards. The leopards soon moved off the rocks and out of the Nhlarulumi riverbed and headed west towards Francolin pan.

We followed the two leopards for some time, and both mother and daughter launched surprise playful attacks on one another, and the animosity we saw between them last week was all but forgotten. It was interesting to observe that while the two leopards were very playful, both also took time out to scent mark the area, and Kuhanya would jump up against the various magic guarri bushes and rub her scent on the ever-green leaves. The interaction between the two was quite special, and in one attack, Kuhanya jumped vertically over 1.5m to avoid an ambush from mom, demonstrating her extraordinary agility. I left Herald and Giyani with the leopards, and they were followed for much of the morning before being left in the area of Francolin pan.

In the mean time, Godfrey, Marka and Johannes had managed to track the Sohebele lions on Scholtz property, and after an unsuccessful attempt at impala, they rested for a while, but soon carried on walking east into Borneo, and moved towards the Kruger Park boundary before we left them. Sadly, they are still looking extremely thin, and the lack of potential prey in that area won’t do them any favours. The adult female is looking particularly lean, and I sincerely hope that they get a good meal soon.

Other sightings of the morning included a nice herd of zebra, giraffe, three elephant bulls, waterbuck, steenbok, hippo and a good number impala.

During the afternoon, besides kudu and impala at the lodge, we found two large bull elephants feeding close to Argyle dam wall. From there I was driving in the area close to where Mbali and Kuhanya were seen in the morning, and we soon spotted Mbali resting peacefully up in a marula tree just off the road. After a few minutes of relaxation, she jumped down and wandered off to the south, scent marking as she went.

We had followed her when my tracker then spotted another leopard up a marula tree about 100m away. My first thought was that it was Kuhanya, but as we followed Mbali and got closer, we saw that it was a young but large male leopard. He sat up and watched Mbali, but she didn’t seem to notice him, and if she did, she didn’t care, as she carried on wandering down a game path to the south. I chose to go and have a closer look at the male leopard, but after a few minutes he jumped down the marula tree and moved quite quickly to the south east, away from Mbali. Johannes decided to go and relocate Mbali while I tried to follow the male leopard…I made the wrong choice because as Johannes found Mbali, she killed a steenbok antelope right in front of him! Despite all my luck with leopards over the last few days, I would have traded them to have seen that kill! I did go and have a brief look at Mbali feeding on her fresh kill, but left her with her dinner.

Other sightings were a bit quiet, mostly impala, a few waterbuck, baboons and hippos at Mbali dam, and then a hyena in the boma after the guests and waiters had left to go to bed! Nobody attempted to relocate the Sohebele pride in the afternoon, and we shall just have to wait and see where and when they turn up next.