Monday, 21 December 2009

12th & 13th December – Nthombi Puts on a Show!

We headed out on Saturday morning, hopeful that the white lions would still be around, as they were at least 2km into our property, and having fed during the night, we didn’t think that they would move too far, but sadly our predictions were wrong.

While having coffee, the local group of vervet monkeys were sitting in the large trees behind the kitchen and alarm calling no end; often a sure sign of a predator, but despite our efforts to spot what they could see, we didn’t find any sign of any large predators about, so left the area. The drive itself started off with the usual impala that were in abundance, and then we found two buffalo bulls near Moeniejag crossing and watched as they slowly moved down towards the Sohebele riverbed.

Giyani was following up on the tracks for the white lions, but sadly found where their tracks had crossed back south into the adjoining private land, and had to leave the area. Giyani also had a bit of misfortune of just missing a pack of wild dogs that had by all accounts spent all of Friday in front of Scholtz trough in our eastern sector, but as the camp attendant’s battery for his radio was flat, he couldn’t call to let us know! Giyani found their tracks heading south into the same area that the white lions had moved into, and saw some of the staff from that land that said that they had just seen the wild dogs south of our boundary heading south, so Giyani was out of luck yet again.

The rest of the morning was reasonably quiet, but there were some lions in the south, near Giraffe Plains, and seeing as I was south already I made my way a bit further south and went to look at them. It was two Machaton lionesses and one of the Timbavati males that were resting in the shade of some terminalia bushes. It was already rather late in the morning, so there was not a great deal of activity from them, but they were at least awake for a while, and one of the lionesses did move closer to us as her shady spot disappeared with the rising sun. We left as the morning heated up and made our way back to camp, picking up my tracker along the way, and seeing two wildebeest on Java airstrip; something I don’t recall having seen there before!

The afternoon was another quiet one, and we struggled on the Big 5 front, but thankfully the bush is not just about these animals and we enjoyed some of the smaller creatures the Timbavati has to offer. Of course the impala were everywhere, we saw some kudu, some good birds around Mvubu crossing and Mbali dam, some relatively active hippos in Mbali dam as they yawned and grunted in the late afternoon.

There was a bushbuck along the Nhlarulumi, an antelope that blends in to the thick summer vegetation with frightening ease! I was slowly making my way down to the hyena den on Western cutline, and decided to cross at Elephant crossing; no one had been brave enough to rive through there yet, despite their being only a trickle of water no even 2m wide. My tracker walked on the wet sand and didn’t sink, so it looked good…that was until I drove through and got that sinking feeling! For the second time in a week I was stuck in the Nhlarulumi riverbed! Thankfully it was a perfect sundowner spot, so we had a drink while Johannes gave me a hand and we pulled the vehicle out with out any hassles!

We heard a leopard calling while on sundowner stop and Johannes went to check the area, but had no luck. I tried a bit further to the south on Vielmetter, but sadly came up empty handed yet again. Heading home, we found several chameleons sitting in the trees next to the road; not an easy feat to find a green chameleon in a green tree, but our trackers do it with ease! After looking at a couple of these interesting creatures, we carried on back to camp and spotted two porcupines near camp before arriving back to camp for a nice meal!

On Sunday morning, I decided to check in the east to see if there was any sign of the wild dogs or the white lions, and also wanted to see what Repair Dam and Scholtz Big Dam looked like with water in! Sadly, we saw little besides Mopane and water (only a female giraffe and a calf, impala and steenbok)! The bush was stunningly green and thick, and all of the little mud wallows and natural pans were full of water, and the large dams looked stunning with water in, but there was very little game around. We had very fresh tracks for a large male leopard, but the thick bush, combined with the fact that the leopard would no doubt be a nervous, non-habituated individual, meant that we didn’t spend much time searching for him. After a cup of coffee, we made our way back west when we got an invite to go and see a rhino south of Machaton dam on Machaton plains.

We headed down there, but didn’t have much luck along the way besides the usual impala; perhaps the warming summer temperatures were to blame? Or maybe not, as the last part of the drive, at the hottest part of the day turned out to be a very productive part and saw us tick off four of the Big 5 in less than an hour! It started off with Mtenga-tenga male rhino sleeping in the shade of a solitary acacia tree in the middle of a small open area south of Machaton dam. He was lying in the open, but was not active at all, and when a call came in for a leopard not too far away, we decided to leave the rhino and go see the leopard.

As we approached Machaton dam, the lone hippo in the water was joined by a lone elephant bull that ambled up to the waterhole for a drink. He soon finished and moved back to the south, so we carried on. A few minutes later we came across a nice herd of giraffe with some young, before carrying on to see Nthombi leopardess as she perched herself on the lowest branch of shady marula tree; the perfect leopard tree!

We sat with her for a while before she suddenly started staring intently in my direction. I turned around and saw what had attracted her attention; a family of warthogs walking straight towards us, and her! I reversed a bit to give both parties a fair chance to see one another, but the warthogs seemed totally oblivious to the looming danger ahead. The mother warthog and her four tiny piglets kept walking straight towards the marula tree, and Nthombi sat up and increased the intensity with which she was watching the warthogs. They kept moving closer, and were probably no more than 15m from the tree when the mother warthog eventually picked up on the scent of the leopard and sounded an alarm that sent the family running to the east, and Nthombi surprisingly just sat and watched as they disappeared! We were all dumbstruck that she had not even made an effort to try and catch one of the baby warthogs; one of the easiest things for a leopard to catch at this time of the year, but we later concluded that the presence of the large mother warthog that dissuaded her from making a move.

Nthombi then lay down again on the same branch, but not for long! She picked her head up with definite interest and in no time was down the tree and ran off to the west. At first we were not sure what she had seen, but soon the squealing drew our eyes to a lone warthog piglet and we watched as Nthombi dashed in and grabbed the little warthog, and with it still squealing sprang into a small marula tree! This was the second warthog kill that my guests had witnessed in two days! The only difference was that this one had a happy ending, at least for the warthog (and not for the leopard, or me!!!).

We pulled up to the small marula tree in which Nthombi was sitting with the poor warthog dangling from the claws of her forepaws, the little guy was still alive and struggling and swinging from the leopards razor-sharp claws, and it really looked like it was game over for the piglet. I was in the process of changing lens on my camera to get a shot of this special sighting when suddenly the piglet wriggled loose and fell 1.5m to the ground, and as a result I failed to get any photos of this sighting (so thanks to Monika Roedinger for the use of your two images)! Nthombi dropped down from the tree in a flash and landed on the piglet that was now hidden in the green grass. Although we couldn’t see what it had done, it did something to make Nthombi jump off it and it ran for its life! I had to try and reposition to get around to see what was going on, but from Elliot’s position, he watched as Nthombi played a little game of cat-and-mouse and kept blocking the path of the piglet as it tried to escape before bafflingly letting it run down a hole in a termite mound! The leopard then sniffed the hole and walked off as if nothing had happened, leaving the baby warthog injured, but alive. From the photos the guests took, and from the way it ran off, things looked good for the warthog to survive. The wounds that had been inflicted on it did not look deep, and will hopefully heal.
We carried on following Nthombi until Giyani arrived to take over the sighting, and then we returned to Machaton dam to go and see a lion that Giyani had found on his way to the leopard! He was at the dam when the alarm calls of two male impalas alerted him to the presence of a predator and he soon spotted one of the Timbavati male lions wandering towards the waterhole. He went to sleep in the shade of an acacia tree just south of the water, and when I arrived, we found him sleeping in the same spot. He was awake and resting in the shade, but paid attention to what we can only assume was a descending vulture, and although he stood up, he soon lost interest and lay down again. Despite his alertness to the speck in the sky, he paid absolutely no attention to the rhino that came wandering up to the dam less than 50m away! Mtenga-tenga had woken up and walked from his resting place to Machaton dam, although he simply went to lie in the shade of his favourite tree at the dam, and we left the lion and rhino resting near 70m from each other and headed back home, ticking off more giraffe and a herd of zebras along the way.

The afternoon was a bit frustrating for us, based on the fact that we found wild dog tracks right on our airstrip! The same wild dogs that ran south across our southern boundary yesterday morning over 10km away had spent all day running around our camp, but we failed to find them! The worst part was that last night, my tracker had said that he thought he spotted wild dog tracks on the road just south of camp, but I brushed it off as the dogs had been so far away in the morning that the chances of it being them were very slim, and so I forgot about it. Seeing those tracks on Sunday afternoon suddenly made me feel very upset, we had missed a great opportunity to view wild dogs on our doorstep! Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but unfortunately, with just one vehicle out from Motswari, I can’t check all the areas, so I was bound to miss something (although I wouldn’t have traded the morning’s viewings for anything!).

So, now we had tracks for the wild dogs, but as they had showed us yesterday, they can move, and can move far! Where to begin? We tried following some of their tracks, but when checking the slightly wider area to the west of the Sohebele riverbed, we couldn’t find any more tracks, and we had checked all the roads around the camp and found nothing. I had already spent an hour and a half looking for these dogs, and if it were just me, I would have carried on, but I had guests that wanted to see animals, so I slowly left the area, and when a guide reported what looked like tracks for wild dogs on a rocky area 4km away, I assumed I had made the right decision to leave the area…but again I was wrong! Just after I had finished my sundowners on the opposite side of the reserve at Voël dam, our night watchman radioed me to tell me that the wild dogs had just come running through our camp!!! I was upset, but it was getting dark and too late to go and look for them again, it would have to wait until tomorrow.

Anyway, we saw impala, waterbuck, hippos, zebras, giraffe and steenbok while driving around the area. Heading back to camp after drinks saw more zebra, waterbuck, some nice fireflies, and a dark storm closing in on us in the northern Timbavati!

We had no sooner arrived back at camp when the dark cloud that had engulfed the sky started rumbling and the lightening that started crashing around us was quite terrifying, especially as our wireless internet mast got struck twice within two minutes, and that burnt straight through our surge protectors and blew the computer that I was busy working on, as well as two others (it was because of these lighting strikes that I have been unable to update the blog lately, so apologies for that)! Thankfully the lightning eased off, and the rain followed, and we recorded 40mm of rain during the night.

Other sightings for the afternoon included a breeding herd of elephant on Double Highway that Palence saw, and then the best news of the afternoon was the first confirmed sighting of Rockfig Jnr leopard’s two new born cubs! While none of our guides had a chance to go and see them, the guides in the south followed her back to the den site and got to see the two four-week old cubs with their mother who showed no sign of aggression, a stark contrast to the way Rockig brought up Rockfig Jnr! This bodes well for the process of habituating these two cubs to the land rovers, as they will see that their mother is not scared of us, so they too will grow up learning that the vehicles are not dangerous! Her den is to the south of Double Highway, and will be off-limits for a while so as not to put pressure on the cubs at this age, but will hopefully be opened in the near future. I was just relieved to hear that they are alive, although saddened to know that I won’t be around to watch the next generation of Timbavati leopards growing up.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Chad,
    What a powerful read,I almost feel like i was there with you all watching these majestic animals- amazing pictures of the white lions.
    Best Wishes,
    Karen + Les