Friday, 13 November 2009

09th & 10th November – A Welcome Return to the Bush!

After a week in the hustle and bustle of Johannesburg, it is always a treat to get back into the bush and see how ‘my’ animals are doing! My first two days back were pleasant, although the hot weather did make the animals a bit lethargic and did lead to a few slightly quiet periods, but overall we had some good sightings.

I returned to drive on Tuesday afternoon, and started off the cycle with a lone elephant bull having a drink at the Motswari waterhole. The three Mahlathini male lions had returned after several days absence, and were found sleeping near Francolin Pan, in the same spot that they had been seen in the morning. I slowly made my way towards the lions, bypassing Vyboom dam along the way. We had some steenbok, impala, waterbuck, giraffe and kudu in the area, and then arrived at the lion sighting, but the three males were fast asleep, and (encouragingly!) didn’t even lift their heads when we drove in to the sighting. On the down side, this didn’t provide much action, but it was still good to see them looking so well fed yet again.
Two of the Sohebele lions were reported at Jaydee Pan, but none of the Motswari guides went to see them. Most of us headed down towards Hide Dam where Nkateko had been found earlier in the afternoon. I made my way to the sighting, but stopped off at the southern Hyena den along the way. The matriarch was out with her two small cubs, and they provided us with a great sighting as they suckled for a while before mom got up and moved off. After a couple of minutes the two cubs thought it would be safer in the den and disappeared out of view so we left them and went to go and see the leopard.
Nkateko female leopard had earlier been chased up a tree by three members of the Rockfig clan of hyenas, this after attempting to stalk a steenbok (and coming close) in front of Palence. By the time I arrived, she had come down from the tree and was just resting behind the dam wall, but she too was looking very well fed, and soon fell asleep with her fat belly gyrating as she panted heavily in an attempt to keep cool.
Other sightings for the afternoon included a breeding herd of buffalo grazing a few hundred meters south of Nkateko, a small breeding herd of elephants near Mbali dam, and then Palence managd to have a quick sighting of Nhlangula male rhino before he crossed into Klaserie south of Nkombi Pan. After viewing some Hippos at Peru dam, Palence and his guests had no sooner climbed into the vehicle and turned around when they spotted Mbali female leopard walking through the bush not 20m away! They followed her for a while until she headed towards one of the private camps and was left on her own. We later heard a report that Mbali then bumped into Kuhanya, and the two had a brief encounter before parting and going their separate ways.

Wednesday morning saw us waking up to the sound of thunder and a slight drizzle; but it was so slight it didn’t even register in our rain gauge! Despite the pleasant, cool weather, our game viewing was a bit quiet. Elliot found tracks for the Mahlathini male lions and decided to track them. I heard them roaring, so knew that they were not far off. There were a couple of kudu bulls and impala around, and we had found six buffalo bulls at the start of the drive, near the airstrip. Elliot found another four buffalo while tracking the lions, and late on in the drive we came across four buffalo near Xinatsi dam. After viewing some hippos at Peru dam, and a crocodile at Mbali dam, I heard that Elliot had managed to find the three lions, so I went to have a look at them, but once more found them rather inactive as they had already settled down for the day.
Just after breakfast, we had five elephant bulls that arrived to drink at the waterhole and spent the best part of the afternoon around the camp, together with the usual impalas and warthogs.

We went to have a look at the elephants on the clearing opposite the camp at the start of the game drive, and then followed that up with some impala and giraffe near the airstrip. We were informed that a rhino had been found south of Nkombi pan, so I immediately started to move in that direction, taking a detour past Vyboom dam where the water is rapidly receding much to the fishes peril; lining the western bank of the dam must have been the bodies of more than 200 dead tilapia (bream) that could not take the high environmental pressures put on them by the hot water and all the silt that was being stirred up as the fishes wriggled about in the drying dam. Ones pain is another’s gain and the saddle-billed storks, yellow-billed kites and fish eagles seemed happy enough with the situation and the bounty of food it provided them; even a marabou stork arrived to feed on the dead fish.

I was heading towards the Timbavati Access road when a young female leopard was radioed in near Voël Dam, so I stopped off to see her as it was on my way. The leopard in question is the young female that we have called the Voël Dam Female leopard. It is only the third time that I have seen this leopard, and the second time in as many weeks. Despite her lack of exposure to the vehicles, she was pleasingly relaxed in our presence! She had her comfort zone, probably about 25m or so, and if we drove closer than that, she would get up and carry on walking quite casually away from us; she never tried to hide, she never ran, she just walked away with her tail held high in the air, a sure sign of a relaxed disposition. She must have had something in her sights, as she was stalking into a Mopane woodland, but she lost interest after the alarm calls of a squirrel gave away her presence. We followed her for about ten minutes before deciding to leave her without pushing her too much, but as we were making our way out of the sighting we spotted her on top of a large termite mound, so tried to get closer, but she didn’t stay still for long and carried on walking towards the Timbavati Access road where we went and parked and waited for her to cross the road just in front of us; she gave us a slight glance but proceeded to cross into the Klaserie at a leisurely stroll that suggested that she had done this countless times before! I left the area with a warm feeling inside; it was not the closest I have come to a leopard, it was not the most exciting sighting I had ever had, but it was one of my most rewarding as to see a new and young leopard like that showing such ‘potential’ for the future was very pleasing indeed!

We carried on south towards the rhino sighting, and soon made our way in to see Nhlangula male rhino as he was resting in a small sandy drainage line. Although he was settling down for the afternoon, it was still a good sighting of him as he was lying in a nice and open spot, and as he slept, a small breeding herd of elephants were feeding nearby. We stopped off to watch them as we made out way out of the area and towards a sundowner spot.

Other sightings for the afternoon included Nthombi female leopard who was found at Elephant dam, but only Andrew went to go and see her. There was also a large group of almost 30 buffalo bulls near Jaydee airstrip, and the three Mahlathini male lions were found sleeping not too far from where we had found them in the morning.

Heading back to camp, the sky was illuminated by the lighting that was flashing about to the south-east, and the promise of rain looked good, although for once it was not wanted! The reason was that we had planned a “bush braai” and were eating under the stars for a change…or so we thought. I had no sooner arrived at the dinner site and the rain drops started to fall! It didn’t last long, and it was in actual fact more refreshing than anything else, but soon past as the main course was served. By the end of the evening I was sitting around the fire with my guests looking up at a starry sky wondering if we would get more than just 0.5mm of rain for the rest of the night…sadly, we didn’t!

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