Saturday, 21 November 2009

19th & 20th November – Rain, Rain, Rain!

Following the first summer rains last Saturday, we received some exceptionally good follow-up rains of the best nature; persistent, soft, soaking rains! The rain started on Thursday morning and did not let up for over 48-hours and was still going strong at the end of Friday. We received just over 70mm over these two days which might not sound like a great deal to our readers from the northern hemisphere, but when you combine that with our 34mm we received last weekend, it is just under a quarter of our average annual rainfall in a weeks period! The rain was not enough to get the Nhlarulumi river flowing, but by Friday afternoon, many of the small drainage lines were flowing into the Nhlarulumi, and if we receive another good bout of rain on Saturday, with the ground being so saturated, there is a good chance at least some of our dry riverbeds will flow!

While the rain is absolutely great for the Timbavati, sadly is had put a slight dampener on the game viewing. The cold weather accompanying the rain has caused many of the animals to seek shelter where ever they can, and this is often out of view of our prying eyes. The rain also washes away all of the tracks left by the animals, and this makes trying to locate them immensely more difficult, and we have to rely a lot more on luck than anything else. And lastly, many guests are far less inclined to go out on drives, so there are only 4 or 5 vehicles traversing the reserve, and with fewer eyes out there, there are fewer recorded sightings.

Despite this, we still had some fair game viewing in lieu of the weather. Despite the on-off rain on Thursday morning, we braved the conditions and headed straight south to see if Nkateko female leopard would be a bit more active than she had been last night with her impala kill. We were the first to arrive and found the young leopardess sleeping up the marula tree near her kill, yet despite spending three-quarters of an hour with her, she didn’t indulge us and go and feed on the kill. She would wake up every so often and look around, yawn every so often, glance at her kill to make sure it was still safe, but ultimately she would then drift back to sleep, so we left her in peace and moved on.
I checked on the southern hyena den once again, but found it as we had the last few days; inactive. I am hoping that it is just the poor weather conditions that are causing the cubs to stay inside the mound, and that there is not more bad news. We will keep checking over the next few days and keep you posted. There had then been reports of the Mahlathini male lions roaring south-east of Mbali dam, so I went to go and check the area, but found no sign of them; but that was probably because they weren’t there as another guide found them heading right towards our western boundary, just south of Voël dam. I headed straight there hoping to catch them before they crossed the Timbavati access road into Klaserie, and bypassed some giraffe and kudu along the way. I got there just in time, and found them moving towards the boundary that was only 200m away. They were once again rather active and seemed to revel in the cool weather by play fighting and chasing one another around as they walked to the west.

Every so often one of them would lie down, but soon got up to follow the brothers. They approached the boundary and lay down just on the Timbavati side, but after a few minutes did the inevitable and got up and crossed into the Klaserie, but not before stopping to have a quick drink in the rain puddles that had formed on the sand-sealed road surface, and then disappeared from view, still chasing one another as they did so!

Johannes had found a young male leopard north of Vyboom dam with a bushbuck kill, that he had taken up a tree on a rocky outcrop on the eastern side of the riverbed, so as I made my way back to camp to get out of the rain, I went past the area to see if the leopard was still there, but I had no luck in relocating him, and he appeared to have moved his kill from the tree in which he had initially dragged it up, so after watching some hamerkop storks making a nest in a nearby tree, I carried on towards a nice hot shower! Other sightings by the guides included two elephant bulls east of Motswari camp, and another three along Western cutline.

The rain was now well set and continued for the duration of the afternoon, but my newly arrived guests braved the elements and we headed out on drive. Considering the conditions we did alright; it started off with two buffalo bulls ruminating next to the road, not far from Lovers Leap. There was the occasional steenbok, but very few impala were out in the open. A large male waterbuck, with his thick coat, was the only one that didn’t seem to mind the rain too much!

We found three zebras in the north, which was pleasing, as they have been a bit of a rarity lately, but hopefully the new flush of green grass that the rains are going to bring will draw more herds of these interesting animals into the Timbavati. There was a herd of kudu, a herd of waterbuck and then we came across a small breeding herd of elephants as they slowly fed towards Mbali dam. We spent some nice time watching them as they went; their thick skins also seemingly impervious to the rain. The one youngster amused us by using his mom’s leg as a scratching post! A teenage elephant was on the receiving end of a reprimand from one of the adult females, and although he protested by crashing through a tree, he wisely moved on and left the female alone.

The rain continued to fall, and I still wanted to go and see Nkateko female leopard with her kill down south. When we arrived, we were lucky enough to watch her feeding on the kill for a while as a hyena wandered about below the tree. The hyena found a few bones that were left over from the baby impala that Nkateko had eaten on the ground near the marula tree, but the hyena was not lucky enough to get any more as Nkateko fed above her.

Nkateko soon finished off her feeding session and went and lay on a broad branch next to the kill and began to groom herself. The hyena realised that her chance of getting any scraps was now over moved on, and we followed a few minutes later and headed back to camp a great deal wetter than when we started the drive!

The rain fell all night and we recorded 35mm of rain since the previous morning, and it had still not let up. My guests braved the rain once more, but sadly our outing was not overly successful. I went to view some hippos at Peru dam, we saw some impala, a very small breeding herd of elephants came walking across the road in front of us as they headed to the north across Peru Entrance Rd, not even stopping to feed as they went. I thought I would check the Timbavati Access Rd back to Motswari, hoping that some lions might have preferred to be sleeping on it than in the sand that was now turning very muddy. I was clearly overly optimistic as we found very little bar two giraffes and some impala. The warm continental breakfast was most welcome upon our return to camp!

For the fourth drive in a row, we tried our luck in the rain, and it was better than this morning, but as the soils were so wet, we were very limited in our ability to drive off road. I was informed that Kuhanya female leopard had killed herself a large female impala just west of Concrete crossing, so we went to have a look at her. We couldn’t get close due to the limitations on off-road driving, so we had to view her from about 35-40m away as she lay looking all forlorn under a small jackalberry tree in a futile attempt to stay dry. We didn’t spend a lot of time with her, and carried on with the drive.

As we went, it was great to see all the little rivulets flowing, and hearing all the frogs making their mating calls. There were a couple of male waterbuck near near Mbali dam, a bushbuck, a scrub hare, some duikers, impala and a few soaking wet birds of prey as we headed to Makulu dam. At the dam we saw two hippos and a large crocodile in the water, and also had two nice sightings of some baby impalas that were already over their “running-away” stage and stayed close to their mothers which were also happy to let us view their newly born calves. A lone female giraffe was also seen feeding in the area.

I checked on Nkateko female leopard and her kill, but found nothing first time around, and as I was returning to the area we stumbled upon a small breeding herd of elephants just east of where the leopard kill was. We spent a brief period with them, then tried our luck with the leopard again, and fortunately a hyena had walked past and disturbed Nkateko, so she was sitting out in the open watching the hyena as it sauntered off. She sat in the same spot for four or five minutes, then crawled under a nearby fallen tree to take shelter from the rain, and that suddenly explained why we hadn’t seen her earlier!

We pulled out of the sighting and stopped off with the elephant herd or another few minutes before heading back to camp, with the rain still falling!!!

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