Sunday, 18 October 2009

15th & 16th October – Good Viewing in the South!

Over the last two days, the south has been particularly productive, and most of the sightings have been recorded there; from Nthombi and Rockfig Jnr to rhino and elephant. Not to say the north has been quiet – we have had lots of elephant, buffalo and leopard up our side too!

Thursday morning was a fair one, the best thing being the two sightings of leopard on Vielmetter. Nthombi female leopard had been found close to the Nyosi riverbed south of Sweetwater pan after the southern guides had followed up on a drag mark on Double Highway. Despite this, no kill was found, and it seems likely that Nthombi lost her kill to hyenas during the night. She was still well fed spent the late morning resting in the shade of the Nyosi riverbed’s green vegetation.
Further east along Double Highway, just west of Hide Dam, our new ‘regular’, Rockfig Jnr female leopard was again found on Vielmetter. I was the only Motswari station to go and have a look at her on my, and she was still active quite late in the morning as she walked about scent marking, investigating the odd hole for a potential meal, and I left her wandering south away from Double Highway, but there is no doubt that she will return again soon, and if our suspicions are correct, she definitely seems pregnant, and she may be looking for a secure place to give birth to her cubs in the same area that she was born in to Rockfig female.

The three Mahlathini male lions were still feeding on the buffalo that they had killed the previous day, and a couple of our guides went past them to have a look. There were also two reported buffalo herds around Mbali dam, but no elephants – the herds seem to have disappeared.

My morning highlight was however my visit to the northern hyena den east of Sharalumi cottage. I arrived to an empty den, and was about to pull out when Johannes radioed me and told me to wait as I was about to see something quite peculiar. So I waited, and a minute later I saw something white bobbing through the bush, but wasn’t sure what it was. As it drew closer I started to laugh as I realized what was going on! One of the adult hyenas had stolen an old bucket from Johannes’ camp and was running with it back towards the den! The hyena approached the den and wandered past the land rover before deciding that it would be fun to chew the bucket! With one foot inside the bucket, the hyena set about biting pieces off – perhaps it could smell something on the bucket that it thought might make it more edible than it actually was! The hyena lost a bit of interest and then decided that my trackers shoes might be more tasty, and on several occasions approached his tracker seat to get a better look at them, only to have us chase him off!

A few minutes later three of the hyena cubs became curious and came running in from nowhere to investigate what the adult was doing! They showed a distinctive curiosity towards our vehicle, and each took a turn in wandering to within 2m of the vehicle before going back to try and play with the bucket, just as a bunch of puppies would do with something back home! We let them enjoy their ‘toy’, and Johannes went to pick up the pieces when all the clan members moved off!
The general game was alright, but not overly prolific, with kudu, waterbuck, impala, warthog and giraffe finding their way onto our checklist.

The afternoon was even more productive. During the course of the day, Nthombi female leopard had managed to catch herself a duiker, and was found resting near the kill in a similar location to where we had seen her in the morning. Herald and Andrew made their way down south to see her. Herald also found a second unidentified female leopard on his way back to camp ; she was resting in the Nhalrulumi riverbed, but moved off up to the eastern bank after a while and was not pursued. Elliot and Johannes also had a good sighting of a male leopard, the Goya Rd Male leopard, at Mvubu crossing. Earlier in the day, Johannes had found the partial remains of a bushbuck kill stored low in the branches of a marula tree. Elliot went past there after dark and found that the male leopard had returned and was busy feeding on the carcass as two scavenging hyenas milled about underneath the tree, a mere meter so below the leopard!

I had checked on the carcass earlier but found nothing, so decided to go and have a look at a breeding herd of buffalo that were feeding west away from Mbali dam, and took advantage of the greenery growing along the Nhlarulumi riverbed. A bit further upstream, there was also a small breeding herd of elephant in the Nhlarulumi, but it was in a particularly thick area, so we couldn’t see them too well. Down on Double Highway, Herald also saw a nice breeding herd of elephant – maybe they are slowly returning to the area?
After a nice sundowner, I headed over to the three Mahlathini male lions hoping to see them feeding, and wasn’t disappointed – they are starting to become a bit more predictable, and tend to enjoy feeding just after sunset. This afternoon was no different and we found one of the males actively feeding on the carcass. One of the males wandering towards the carcass but dropped to the ground about 10m away, and didn’t wake up again while we were there. Upon leaving the area, we saw a lone spotted hyena walking down the road, no doubt drawn by the now strong smell of the carcass. There were also some zebra and three elephant bulls feeding along the Sohebele riverbed on the way home. Godfrey and Andrew also ticked off some sightings of elephant and buffalo bulls up north.

Friday was a cracker of a day with 24 sightings of Big 5 animals being recorded! I chose to stay up north and look for some elephants that had been a bit lacking, and I wasn’t disappointed. While I was having a cup of coffee at Mbali dam, after seeing a large pod of hippos and a big female crocodile nearby, a breeding herd of elephants made their way quickly towards Mvubu crossing. We packed up quickly and went to have a look at them as a few of them drank, but most were too interested in the greenery and fed vigorously on the plants. A couple of hundred meters down stream, a second small herd of elephants with a small baby were feeding near Peru dam. During the course of the sighting the herds merged and moved off to the north. In addition, a small group of seven buffalos arrived at Mvubu crossing too, but split up and the males and females went off in opposite directions. I assume that they were part of a herd of buffalo that Godfrey saw on our western boundary during the morning drive. Another nice sighting in that area was that of two young male impalas having a bit of a fight on the flood plain of Peru dam!
My elephant sightings were not over and I managed to locate on another breeding herd of elephants resting in the shade west of Buffalo pan. There were also three bull elephants scattered around that area. It was already late in the morning when I went past Vyboom dam, but it was full of activity. Besides the nearby elephants, there were more than a hundred impala in the area, as well as a group of giraffe north of the dam wall. The one giraffe was staring into the reeds in the riverbed, then moved off a few meters, only to turn around and stare at the same spot; that could only mean one thing – a predator! It was not in an easily accessible area, but I drove a bit closer along the riverside road, and then a young male leopard got moved from out of the reeds towards the rocks in the riverbed. We spotted him again as he lay on top of a small rock, but in a shady spot that didn’t allow for a good visual, but it was still nice to see him; I think it was the Vyboom Dam young male leopard.

Down south, there was another sighting of Nthombi female leopard south of Sweetwater pan, but she had finished her duiker kill and had moved off a few hundred meters. Herald relocated her late in the morning resting in the shady Nyosi riverbed. She soon got up and moved onto the southern bank and was lost before Godfrey could see her. As Herald was heading back to camp along the Timbavati Access road, the Nhlangula male rhino crossed the road in front of him as he slowly fed in the direction of the nearby Nkombi pan. Elliot had also gone to check on the Mahlathini male lions, and found them in the same spot, with one of the males chewing on the skin and bones that remained of the buffalo kill.

I had new guests for the afternoon drive, so took it easy in the north for the first part of the drive. There was a hyena resting in the water at Trade Entrance dam, some impala on the airstrip, two elephants and some giraffe to the west of the airstrip, then some kudu, waterbuck and a few steenbok ticked off too. There was a small breeding herd of elephants feeding and drinking in the Nhlarulumi riverbed just to the north of Vyboom dam too. We then saw a small group of buffalo feeding below Mbali dam, but I suspect that they were part of the same large breeding herd of buffalo that were stretched out feeding east of Mbali camp; I would guess that there were at least 300-400 in the herd.
I then decided to head down south-east to have a look at the three Mahlathini male lions, and arrived to find one of the males still chewing on the sinews of the carcass. His brother lay just behind him and soon also moved to the carcass, but they had done a good job in finishing most of the edible parts of the carcass, and they will probably move off at some stage during the night; hopefully moving back north towards Scholtz trough for a drink.
Herald and Godfrey had gone south again, and had a sighting of Nthombi female leopard after she was relocated near Steep Nhlarulumi crossing, and didn’t make the sighting easy as she wandered about on the banks of the riverbed, but she soon left the riverbed to the east towards Elephant dam. Elliot also found Nkateko female leopard on Java airstrip, and left her heading south again. Most of our guides had also gone to see Nhlangula male rhino after he was relocated at Nkombi pan in the afternoon. He slowly fed to the south, and was left late in the afternoon heading back west towards the Klaserie.
There were also another three breeding herds of elephant found in the central and northern parts of the reserve, as well as some buffalo bulls. We also had our first ‘bush braai’ of the summer, and gazed upon the sky’s wonderful array of stars as we enjoyed our dinner in the bush! It was a real treat after another two special days of game viewing at Motswari.

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