Monday, 16 November 2009

13th & 14th November – Rain at Last!!!

Friday the Thirteenth! It did prove a bit unlucky for me, but the other guides had good game viewing days. My day was not bad, but just a bit unlucky I guess!

It started off when I received word through the bush grapevine that a some lions had killed a giraffe right in the far north-eastern corner of the Umbabat on a property that we only traverse once in a while, and the camp attendant told us that we were welcome to come and view the sighting, so Palence and I decided to go and try our luck, although I had a bad feeling about this from the start, but the temptation of possibly seeing the grand old Sohebele male lion and some white lion cubs (both of which are rumoured to be in that area) was too much and I bumbled through the bush to get there. We caught the tail end of a breeding herd of buffalo heading in to one of the properties in the area, but couldn’t follow up, so carried on to our destination. We eventually arrived in the area, and the mornings hot sun was already starting to burn our skin, but it didn’t matter, we were going to see some lions…or so we though! When we asked the camp attendant where the kill was, he told us that there was no kill, and claimed to have said nothing of the sort to our staff! How this message got muddled up was a bit of a disappointment, but more of a mystery than anything else! Some mating lions had been heard in the area two days prior, but we saw no sign of any lions while we checked the area; in fact we didn’t see much at all – some impala, a group of 15 buffalo bulls, lots of signs of rhino, but no rhino themselves, and very little else.

Despite this, I actually thoroughly my visit to the area; my first real trip to that part of the reserve, and I was taken aback by some of the large open areas along the Kruger boundary. There were areas where the soil was almost black and rich with nutrients that gave rise to impressive grassy areas with low shrubs widely spaced as far as the eye could see. It was perfect rhino and zebra habitat, and one could easily imagine a cheetah fitting right in there! The only issue was the dryness of the area, and the lack of water led to a lack of game across the entire stretch of open area; I cant wait to return after some good rains to see if this area turns into the fertile haven that it could very well be!

I made my way back to the Timbavati a bit disappointed, and hearing of the sightings that I had missed out on (including Rockfig Jnr female leopard at Entrance Dam, the three Mahlathini male lions near Voël Dam, a breeding herd of elephant drinking at Makulu Dam, vultures finishing off the Sohebele lionesses body, and a large breeding herd of buffalo at Hide Dam) didn’t make me feel better! I found another three buffalos near the camp, and along with some impala and waterbuck rounded off a quiet morning for me. While having breakfast though, a troop of baboons ambled past the lodge, and the usual impala and warthogs were around feeding on the lawn.

In the afternoon I stuck to familiar territory and had a slightly more successful drive. My main aim was to go and spend time with the Mahlathini lions, so I passed on sightings of a breeding herd of buffalo, a herd of elephants, and a rhino in the south in favour of going to see the three male lions in the north. I was also tempted to stay north based on the fact that an impala kill of Mbali’s had been found just west of Peru dam wall, but I went to the area and only found the impala carcass resting at the base of a large tree, upon some small rocks, but no leopard. I found it interesting as Mbali was reported to have killed an impala next to one of the privatecamps on Peru dam the afternoon before, but I assume it had been stolen by the hyenas and she had just caught herself another meal!

En route to check on the kill, we had spent some time with two elephant bulls feeding to the east of Peru dam, and a while later found another lone elephant at Peru dam along with some waterbuck and many impala. I later proceeded to the three Mahlathini male lions and found then resting close to where they had been in the morning. Sunset was approaching, so we waited for them to wake up, and hoped to follow them as they set off for the night. After about twenty minutes or so, they slowly started waking up (driving in to a sighting of them no longer wakes them up!) and started grooming, and just after the sun and its 42°C heat dipped below the horizon, the three lions got up and moved very slowly to the east, but soon came to a dried mud wallow and flopped back down to the ground, so we decided to leave them and went for a sundowner of our own on one of the hottest days of the year!

Heading back to camp was quiet on the nocturnal animal front, and we bypassed impalas, waterbuck and a lone elephant bull on our airstrip. In the evening, we had two different elephant bulls come to drink at the camp waterhole; one of them was our long-time camp visitor Floppy, the floppy-eared elephant bull!

I awoke at around 4am to the most glorious sound in the dry summer bush; RAIN! Eventually, the rain had arrived, and while it might not have been bucketing down, we were just delighted to have something; 22mm had fallen by the time we woke for game drive, but the rain was not yet over and continued until a about 8:30am, and a total of 34mm had fallen at the lodge, while 45mm fell at Java further south. The rain had delayed the start of my drive until after breakfast, but Godfrey and Palence’s guests braved the rain in the early morning.

My late morning drive was a particularly good one, and the fresh feeling of the bush after the first of the summer’s rain was great to experience! There were a few impala about, some kudus and a lot of drenched birds sitting in the darkened trees waiting to dry off. I had heard that a rhino had been seen north of Nkombi pan, so I was making my way down south when I spotted a leopard sleeping in a marula tree west of Peru Dam wall. Earlier in the morning an impala kill had been found in the area, so I went closer to investigate and found it to be my favourite leopard, the impressive Argyle male leopard, up the tree resting near his freshly killed impala ewe. What was interesting was that this kill was not further than 150m from where Mbali leopardess had her own kill yesterday!
It didn’t take him long to wake up, and he moved to the kill which was hanging in the lowest branch, and he tried to move it a bit higher with out any success, so he began feeding on the carcass where it was. He began eating the belly, and soon found the foetus of the impala, almost old enough to have been born, but not so fortunate enough to have made it into the real world. The leopard pulled the bloodied baby from the womb and started munching on it in a typical “Raw Africa” moment.

We spent some great quality time with the leopard as he fed, but soon pressed on with the drive. On the Timbavati access road we found more impala, as well as a zebra and giraffe feeding close to one another. We arrived in the area where the rhino was last seen, and my tracker went on foot to follow up on the tracks, while I carried on with the drive. We found a group of ten buffalo bulls sleeping next to the road, but while watching them Petros radioed to tell me that he had found the rhino, so I made my way towards him.

The rhino was the relaxed Nhlangula male rhino, and thankfully it was him, as we ran into a little problem…we got stuck in mud about 20m from the rhino! The rain had turned a little ditch into a slippery pit, one that my Land Rover could just not make it through! I climbed out of the vehicle to check the situation, and this just proved to the guests how poor a rhinos eye-sight is, as Nhlangula couldn’t even see me walking around. Luckily he did stand up when Petros jumped off, and the rhino moved off to about 50m from us, and stood there trying to work out what was going on. We got all of the guests off, and after trying a few options to get ‘unstuck’, it was team work that eventually got us back on solid ground! I am still wondering what the rhino was thinking the whole time this was going on!

With the vehicle going again, we carried on with our sighting and followed the rhino as he made his way towards the Timbavati access road before he crossed ito Klaserie. We tried to relocate on a herd of elephants that we had heard earlier while watching the giraffe, but they too had crossed west into Klaserie, so instead we headed up to Makulu dam and viewed more kudus, some hippos, a small crocodile, and a herd of waterbuck. Further down the road was more waterbuck and impala, and the rain had also brought the tortoises out, as well as several other reptile species which we saw along the way, and so, as the sun burnt through the clouds, we headed back to camp for a siesta, but not before having two elephant bulls cross the road in front of us just before we returned to camp! There was also news that the Machaton pride of lions had stolen an impala kill from Nthombi leopardess on Double Highway earlier in the morning, but we never got a chance to go and see them during the drive.

The sun was shining bright by the time we headed out for the afternoon, and we were taking a slow amble when I was informed that some African Wild Dogs had been reported on one of the adjacent reserves at about lunch-time. While we don’t have access to that area, the Timbavati access road passed straight past the area, so we decided to take a long shot and see if we could get lucky with my favourite animal, but sadly it was not to be. Despite this, at least we know that they pack is back in the area, and I am sure that it will not be long before they pop onto our traversing area and we get to see them again! From what I heard, they have six new pup’s of about 5-months old with them, but exactly how many adults are left in the pack remains to be seen (there were 14 in the pack when they left our area in July).

Along the Timbavati road, we saw many impala, four buffalo bulls, several herds of kudu, a warthog mom with four newly born, and extremely cute piglets, a nice relaxed male giraffe and a distant elephant crossed the road in front of us and then we cut back into the Timbavati and went to check around Vyboom dam. There were more impala and kudu along the way, but not a great deal of activity.

Argyle male leopard was still at his kill, so we headed into the area at around sunset hoping to see him feeding again. There were some impala and baboons nearby, but at first they paid no attention to the large male leopard who was just resting on the cool sand 40m from the marula tree in which his kill was still hanging. As a magical sunset painted the sky an array of pinks and oranges, Argyle male slowly headed back towards his carcass, although he stopped and rested every 10m! This brought him into view of the impala that started snorting their alarm calls, but the leopard ignored these and eventually jumped up the tree and began feeding on the remains of the baby impala that he had pulled from the ewe earlier. The baboons had now also seen the leopard and were barking their disapproval too. The leopard dropped the baby out of the tree, so he jumped down to retrieve the meal, and continued to feed on it on the ground. The baboon troop had now started making their way closer to the leopard as they continued to bark, and as they drew nearer, their brazenness was too much for the leopard, and he decided to wisely take the safe route and moved away from kill as the baboons came running in! Now I would have loved to have said that the big, brave leopard stood his ground and chased the annoying baboons away, but sadly he didn’t; he ran off with his tail between his legs like a little wimp! I was surprised at his reaction, but understood that it was not worth it for him to risk injury should the baboons have attacked en mass, and that he had made the wise choice in moving off. Regardless of my feelings, the interaction still made for a great sighting, and we left the area to enjoy a magical African sunset before heading back to camp.

Other sightings of the afternoon included Nkateko female leopard at, you guessed it, Hide Dam (where else!?!?), and then a couple of elephant bulls at Argyle dam. Some concerning news was that it appears that the two hyena cubs at the Rockfig clan’s den might be dead. Herald checked the area today and found no signs of them, and following the news that two large warthogs had been seen emerging from the burrow in which the cubs were hiding, and then they proceeded to chase off two of the adult hyenas, things are sadly not looking too good for them.

So, the rain had brought out many animals of all shapes and sizes; there were terrapins, frogs, a scrub hare suckling a small baby, and insects. Yes, the insects had been waiting for this day for a long while, and the winged alates (termite reproductive’s) were coming out from everywhere! A little bit of rain and the bush had come to life, we shall now just have to see how long it takes for the grass and trees to respond to the rain before the green flushes of vegetation transform the seemingly barren landscape into a lush green oasis!

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