Monday, 21 December 2009

14th & 15th December – My Last Two Days at Motswari

Wow, I can’t believe that this day has finally arrived; my last day at Motswari. If it is any consolation, at least they were two memorable ones thanks to us finding the White Lions yet again! Oh yes, and wild dogs!!!

Monday morning started out as a fresh one following the 40mm of rain we had during the night, but my dreams of seeing the lodge’s large dam full were not to be. Still, we set out for the morning drive keen to follow up on the wild dogs that had been through the camp yesterday evening. They were picked up right on our northern boundary, on the Ingwelala airstrip, moving straight north, so we made our way quickly over there trying to get them before they crossed, but it was too late, they had moved into the adjoining reserve. We found a lone hyena from our northern clan wandering around following their scent trail and a small family of wildebeest with three calves were running south along the Ingwelala airstrip, presumably to get away from the wild dogs that would have been more than happy to take down one of the new born calves.

I carried on to the area where the wild dogs had disappeared off our property and could see some of them on the road about 150m away, but I checked along the Timbavati access road to the east and found two of the wild dogs running around and they ran past us, back onto our land, then turned back to the north. While watching at a distance we could see the dogs chasing something, and they made a kill in the bushes about 50m away, but it was too thick to see more than a few white tails waving in the air, so we decided to leave the area and go and look for some leopards, but not before finding another spotted hyena milling about the area.
We stopped at Lovers Leap for a cup of coffee, and it was great to eventually do so and have water below us; it is a magical spot! We carried on with leopard search, but with the bush being so thick, we struggled, and the hardened ground after the rain didn’t make our lives easier with regard to picking up any tracks either. We found some fair general game; waterbuck, impala, steenbok, zebras and then some interesting smaller animals like terrapins, tortoises, some wonderful dung beetle activity as they all fought over some fresh dung of a buffalo herd that had moved past Mbali dam during the night, and then most interestingly, we spent some time watching fish!

We sat below Mbali dam wall and enjoyed the activity of the catfish at the overflow of the dam. There were a couple of dozen large catfish all swimming around in the shallows, and several were waiting at the overflow and were jumping out of the water for one of two reasons that we could surmise; firstly they might have been trying to follow the water upstream and were trying to lunge up the overflow that was stopping their migration to the head waters, and secondly, they seemed to also be attempting to feed on the smaller fish that were being washed downstream! The catfish were jumping with their mouths open and it appeared that they were trying to catch the tiny tilapia! We spent some good time watching this and trying to capture it on camera, but it wasn’t as easy as it looked, and the results could do with some improving!

We then made our way towards a large breeding herd of buffalo that was feeding in the Mopane woodland south of Voël dam before heading back to camp as the rain was starting again! Heading back to camp we found a large elephant bull feeding on the fresh grass and flowers as he sauntered through the bush, more impalas with plenty of babies, as well as a herd of giraffe sleeping on our airstrip, but as the rain was coming in, we didn’t spend long with them. The only other Big 5 sighting was that of an elephant bull near the wild dog sighting in the morning.
For the afternoon drive, I decided to head south as it was clear that our northern leopards were not playing along. I went straight down Western cutline to check on the hyena den before checking around Vielmetter. We arrived and found the mother hyena and her two cubs hanging around outside the den. The cubs were playing and biting on the wood and flowers as they always do while mom lay close by resting and just keeping watch. She then suddenly jumped up with her tail erect and looking intently to the north. The cubs didn’t hesitate and dashed straight to the safety of the den while the mother eagerly moved north, her tail still showing her signs of excitement!

I desperately wanted there to be a leopard walking past, but as the mother pushed north, we heard the growling of something larger than a leopard. We followed the sound but hit a rocky drainage line that was uncrossable, so had to back track to the road and go in on the northern side of the drainage line, scanning every bush for a sign of ‘the sound’, and then, as we rounded a cluster of trees, we spotted what we were looking for! A lion, but not just any lion, it was a white lion! The Mayumbuya pride had returned to our area again for the third time in two weeks, and they had made another kill, this time it was a baby giraffe that they had brought down in a small drainage line.

There were six lions present; the two tawny lionesses, two tawny cubs and then the two white cubs, and they had probably made the kill earlier in the day as there was still a good deal of meat left, from what we could see, but sadly the kill was in an awkward location and it was not easy to get a view of the youngsters feeding. The lionesses were lying in the open, and I decided to reposition to have a look a them, but as I drove away, the curious white cub came following my vehicle, so I stopped on the one side of a grassy termite mound and she came over the other side and peered over the emerald grass to see what we were all about!

Everyone was excited when I called the sighting in, so I had to make space to give everyone a chance to see these special lions, and I slowly made my way out of the area, back past where the majority of the pride had now gathered outside the drainage line, and to get out I had to drive far closer to them than I wanted, but they were remarkably unphased by our presence, so we could stop and take a few photos before leaving the sighting. I stopped to chat to Johannes as he approached and he told me to look behind me as my “friend” was following me, and sure enough, the curious white cub was walking 30m behind me following my Land Rover!

We left the rest of the guides to enjoy the sighting and went to look for leopards, but sadly it was not to be yet again. We saw some impala, warthogs, giraffe, waterbuck, and then had a nice sighting of a herd of giraffe with two young males having a fight as they swung their large necks into the opponent with a mighty thud. A bit further along Double Highway there was a small breeding herd of elephants, and we spent a bit of time watching them before it started getting too dark and we went and had a drink before heading back to camp.

Along the way we spotted a chameleon, and the guests got to see these remarkable creatures up close, and then we pushed on back to camp for my last night at Motswari. As I sat around the fire for the last time at Motswari, the distant roars of a lion made me realise just how much I was going to miss this special place.

And so, on Tuesday morning I set off for my last official drive, and I was hoping that the leopards would sense this and put on a show for me, but I was being overly optimistic again, and there were just no signs of any of our leopards. The general game was enjoying the sunshine and warmth following yesterdays cold temperatures, and we saw some nice kudu bulls, impala, hippos, good bird life at Vyboom dam, including Saddle-billed storks and Marabou storks, some large crocodiles sliding into the water as we approached, a herd of kudu, some nice giraffe, a lone elephant bull and the omnipresent impalas.

We had a nice cup of coffee at my favourite summer spot at Giraffe Kill lookout and then headed south, if not for leopard then at least for the Mayumbuya pride of lions that had been found on our eastern boundary. The pride were found at the giraffe carcass first thing in the morning, but got up and started moving back to the east when the first guide arrived. They were followed as they headed towards Eastern Cutline, and back to their regular territory, but thankfully, not even 100m before they arrived there, they settled down for the day, and spent the rest of the morning resting in the shade of a Mopane thicket. I arrived quite late in the morning, and the lions were sleeping off their fat bellies, but being a warm day, they were quite uncomfortable and spent most of the time lying away, the cubs chewing on the leaves and branches lying around, but not offering too much excitement. One of the lionesses got up and moved to the east, and I thought that was it, but she was just moving to a shadier spot, and we then left them and headed back to camp for breakfast.

My guests checked out and I decided I needed one more drive, and invited my some friends (not proper guests, LOL, an in-joke amongst us) to come and see the white lions, as they have been coming to this area for the last 15 years and haven’t ever seen one! It was the middle of the day, on a hot summers day, but that didn’t stop us from having a great sighting of the lions.

I headed straight south and anxiously approached the area where they had been left three hours before, and was relieved to see that they hadn’t moved off, merely having just found a new tree to lie under, although they really could have picked a better tree to get shade, rather than having all six lions trying to squeeze into the shade of one solitary Mopane tree! We must have spent just under an hour watching them as they tried to get comfortable, did their ablutions, went and rubbed up against mom, suckled some milk, and just did what lions do, with the exception that they were white!

To illustrate just how special this sighting was I must share a story with you (sorry Jeanette, but I loved this!). My friends, the ones that are proper guests, keep a sightings diary of their trips to the bush (which happen often, they spend about a third of the year in the bush at their place on Ingwelala), and they rate each sighting on a scale of from “good”, to “very good” and then “very, very good” which is awarded to the best sightings, including kills, wild dogs, leopard cubs etc. I was reading their diary and read about the white lion sighting that had to be allotted its very own category, “Amazing!”, and I don’t think a more apt word could describe what it is like to see these creatures in the wild.

And so I closed off my account at Motswari, for the time being, and went to spend the afternoon at Ingwelala where my friends repaid me for the white lions by showing me an “Amazing” wild dog sighting, the pack of 16 wild dogs shortly after they had caught an impala, and were still busy feeding on it when we arrived. Once the adults had had their share they went to investigate a crocodile that was living in a large pool of water along the Nhlarulumi riverbed where they had their kill, but then they just resorted to chasing each other through the water until the pups had finished eating and they moved off.

We had found the wild dogs earlier in the afternoon as they set off for the hunt, and they actually crossed through Motswari property, but we were unable to locate them on Motswari’s land, and they killed the impala not 200m from our Sharalumi self-catering camp, but just off the boundary. The good news is that they are still in the area, and I am sure that they will probably be around for the next few weeks, so guests visiting Motswari will have a good chance off seeing them.

And while none of the Motswari guides saw the wild dogs, I don’t think that they were complaining, as down south on Java and Vielmetter, they got to show their guests the White Lions, and not one, but two leopards!!! Both Nthombi and Nkateko female leopards were found in the afternoon – good ol’ Murphy’s Law kicking in again!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing all the amazing sightings and awesome happenings Chad.
    Farewell with whatever you undertake next!