Saturday, 10 October 2009

06th, 07th & 08th October – Sizzling Summer Sun!

It has been hot in the Lowveld. Very hot. The mercury touched 40°C most afternoons, and the heat seemed to have kept the animals away, as my first couple of days back in the bush after my leave were a bit quiet.

I arrived back to the heat of the bush on Tuesday and headed straight out on drive. The most surprising news was that the Sohebele lioness had been found in the company of the three Mahlathini male lions, and they were believed to have been mating based on their behaviour. They were found in the afternoon at the southern end of Vyboom dam, but initially we could only see two of the males resting just off an old airstrip. The ‘honeymoon’ couple were down in the riverbed but didn’t show any signs of mating. We went and stopped for a drink on the opposite side of the dam and at one stage the Sohebele lioness looked as if she was going to initiate a quick mate, but when the male tried to mount her she ran off, and we found all four lying on the airstrip after dark, but there was nothing to indicate that they were indeed mating. Perhaps the lioness just entered a false estrus to appease these males?

As for the rest of the Sohebele pride, three of the sub-adults were found east of Entrance dam in the afternoon, looking thin, but they seemed to have eaten something small during the night. Palence found the fourth sub-adult at Argyle dam in the morning, but we didn’t manage to find him again in the afternoon. The pride spent all of last week separated, and the young male became separated from his mother sometime on the weekend. Sadly he is at least 10km from where the other three youngsters are, and it will take some effort for him to find the rest of the pride. It will also be interesting to see if the lioness returns to the subadults, or if she has any intention of joining up with the Mahlathini males?

Other sightings for the afternoon included a large herd of buffalo at Java dam. Some guides estimate that there could be as many as 900 buffalo in the herd! The slowly fed to the north away from Java dam. There were also a few elephant bulls around, but overall it was a bit quiet in the north.

Wednesday was another scorcher, and also disappointingly quiet. Only Palence and I were driving in the morning, but there wasn’t much about at all. The general game was alright; kudu, waterbuck, baboons enjoying the flowering trees along the Nhlarulumi riverbed, impala, giraffe and a few smaller antelope, hyenas at their new den site north of Hide dam and some nice birds.

In the afternoon, the quiet period persisted. There were a few buffalo bulls and elephant bulls around, some general antelope species, a couple of hyena and then I had a nice sighting of a hippo out of the water at Makulu dam while I was having a sundowner. He climbed of the dam wall and then went to join the other hippos in the dam!

Heading back to camp through Vielmeter was a bit unproductive, and we had no luck finding any signs of Rockfig or Nkateko leopards. There was a nice sighting of a Verraux Eagle Owl and a young hyena at Hide dam. As we went along Western cut line and through Moeniejag crossing, something caught my eye and I asked Petros to shine the light back, and there sitting in the riverbed was a male leopard, but sadly he was very nervous and as the light caught him he got up and ran up the riverbank and we couldn’t relocate him.

We then got another surprise at the camp when we found a reasonably relaxed serval cat sitting in the road near Trade Entrance pan. It moved off the road and sat behind a fallen tree, but when we moved a bit closer it got up and moved off.

Andrew had a sighting of one of the Mahlathini male lions in the north, but he was moving through some very thick bush which made following him difficult and he was left on his own. Palence also brought some good news that afternoon. After the Machaton pride had moved onto Vielmeter over a week ago, seven days had passed without the two Machaton cubs being seen with the pride that had moved right to the south of their territory. This caused much concern about exactly what had happened to the cubs, but the guides got a ray of light when they saw tracks for the two of them on Vielmeter, in the Nhlarulumi riverbed a few days back, and Palence managed to find them late on Thursday afternoon playing with one another in the riverbed! It was good to know that they were still alive and well, even without having had any food for several days. Luckily during the night the mother lioness returned and collected the cubs and took them straight back south – it was great to know they were now safe with the mother!

Thursday started out even hotter than the last few days, but it proved to be a slightly better morning. That large herd of buffalo were found heading towards Mbali dam where they ended up quenching their thirst late in the morning before heading back south. The buffalo bulls were represented by three bulls feeding opposite the lodge during the morning coffee-time, as well as another two on Piva plains.

There was also a group of eight bull elephants, and they treated us to a nice sighting as the biggest and most relaxed of the bulls came and fed on a tree a few meters from us! They really are amazing animals, and it was special just to sit amongst them for a while! There were also some more elephant bulls near the camp, and a small breeding herd of elephants down south.

The highlight of the morning was the sighting of Mbali female leopard when she was found near Old Gate. She was looking quite hungry, and this kept her moving late into the morning as she wandered about looking for anything to eat. She climbed a large termite mound and stood atop this hill in the blazing heat of the late morning just scanning looking for any sign of movement; but sadly she wasn’t having any luck – it was just too hot for the other animals to be out and about. I followed her for over an hour before we left her to continue her search on her own. Her wounded legs are looking better, and although the wounds are still visible, she doesn’t appear to be in any discomfort.

We also had a brief sighting of a honey badger this morning, but it went down into a hole in a termite mound, and as it was a warm day, we didn’t wait for it to show itself again; something is was only likely to do after nightfall.

In the afternoon, the heat of the day was energy sapping, and the animals weren’t overly active. The large breeding herd of buffalo was found not too far south from Mbali dam, but didn’t head to any waterholes during the afternoon. There was a small breeding herd of elephant below Giraffe Kill lookout that fed towards Mbali dam. There were also two buffalo bulls and a lone bull elephant seen in the north.

Down in the south, Mtenga-tenga male rhino had been found way south on Cheetah plains, and Andrew and Palence made their way down to see him as he grazed to the north. Palence also went to check on the hyena den and saw mother and her two cubs resting outside of the mound.

My guests wanted to see more leopard, but as it was so quiet with regard to leopard activity, I decided to go and follow up on Mbali female leopard. She was not where we had left her, and we just couldn’t find tracks for her anywhere. But we persisted and I decided to go check down towards the drainage line west of Peru dam, and we got lucky and found her lying on a small termite mound just off the road. She lay there for a while and glanced at a hippo that had left the water early to start its feeding which is becoming more difficult as we reach the driest part of the year. Mbali then got up and wandered to the north towards Peru dam. She momentarily showed interest in some guineafowl and a small group of bushbuck, but didn’t make any real effort, despite her hunger. She went down towards the water in a thicket, and we left her to it. I just hope that after quenching her thirst, she had some luck getting a meal!

And that was the first few days of my return to Motswari. Although quiet, we still had some good viewing, and I am sure that the sightings will pick up as the hot weather subsides over the next couple of days

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