Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A Trip Down Memory Lane Part 1

Over the last year, despite not working at Motswari, I was fortunate enough to be able to do some free-lance guiding there, as well as just visit on holiday! Reading Grant’s blog updates made me rather envious of all the sightings that the guides and guests were seeing, and were probably a large factor in me visiting the area every 3 or 4 weeks. However, as Grant will attest to, it was almost as if the animals pre-empted my arrival and seemed to disappear when I arrived, stayed hidden for a few days, then came out the minute I left! It was almost uncanny the number of sightings the guys would have in the days following my departure. Naturally I got a bit of a complex about this, and it was not until I went through some of my photos and actually considered what I saw that I realised I had not been as unlucky as I had initially though!

I have thus decided to share with you all a few of my images and sightings over my last various trips to Motswari since I stopped working almost a year ago!

January - March 2010

It didn’t take me long to get back for a visit! So within a couple of weeks of leaving, I returned for a few days stay at the lodge as a guest! It was amazing seeing the bush so lush and green, but with the abundance of water everywhere, the game viewing was a bit of a challenge, and for the most part there wasn’t a great deal going on.

It started off wonderfully; the first drive we saw the white lions resting near Hide Dam, and a couple minutes later, Nkateko female leopard popped up at Hide Dam too and we had a nice sighting of her! The next morning after having spent about 10 minutes stopped to watch some birds at a Madash Dam, we pulled forward 5m and spotted Kuhanya female leopard, who had been resting on the water’s edge the whole time, yet had been concealed by a little bush! The next few days passed without a great deal to speak of – although Grant and I saw Kuhanya one afternoon while out on a little bumble – and just when I was starting to lose faith, things suddenly got exciting!

We were watching a large breeding herd of buffalo drinking at Hide Dam, and enjoying several rare yellow-billed oxpeckers amongst the herd when one of the young buffalo started behaving very strangely. It just appeared to have collapsed, and was unable to get to its feet, so it was bleating and bellowing for its mother’s help. The mother and several females came to its aid, but no matter how hard it tried, it could not get to its feet. The cows moved off until the calf distressed called again. And this scenario repeated itself several times, and Andrew, Petros and I knew that it couldn’t go on for long.

The distress call of a buffalo is magnet for the predators, and any predators within ear-shot of the call could not be far. I had had a feeling that there were lions close by the whole time, even before the calf started calling, and kept checking to the south – the direction the herd had come from – to see if there were any lions moving upon the herd. When the calf started its calling, I thought if it’s not the lions that arrive, then either Nkateko or the Rockfig hyena clan would be there within minutes.

It was when the mother buffalo walked off for the last time that I looked up and saw a lioness peering through the bushes. I have no doubt she had been watching this scene play out for a while, and was just waiting for the herd to move off before making her approach.

As soon as the herd was out of sight, she ran in to the calf, sniffed it, and then grabbed it and ran for cover! It was then that a second lion appeared; a young male, and we quickly identified this as the Machaton young male and one of the Machaton lionesses. What ensued made the whole trip more than worth it, and we spent well over an hour watching the scene unfold.

Firstly, the lions engaged in a game of tug-o-war over the calf; neither wanting to suffocate it, but rather trying to get the biggest share! The male effortlessly pulled the calf, and lioness along with it, towards a bush, before the lions eventually lay down and carried on pulling at the calf. It was not until after more than 10 minutes that the bleating eventually stopped and the bone-crunching continued. This racquet, together with the growling of the lions almost immediately brought in the Rockfig hyena clan members.

At first, only two arrived, but upon giving the ‘rallying call’, another two members quickly appeared, and the raucous sounds made as they tried to intimidate the feeding lions was something I wont forget in a hurry! The hyenas sneakily ran in and tried to bite the lions tail, but the mere presence of the young male was enough to keep them at bay! Had it just been the lioness, they would no doubt have stolen the kill and chased her off.

After some time, and with no more hyenas joining the fray, the hyenas almost lost interest and conceded defeat and simply lay down a couple of metres from the lions, and waited until they had had their share before leaving the scraps for the scavengers!

It was a great sighting, and occupied most of our morning; the only ‘disappointing’ thing was that by spending all that quality time with those lions, we weren’t able to get to go and see 6 lionesses (not sure if it was the Voel Dam Pride, or more likely the Ross Pride) feeding on a buffalo carcass near Jaydee Pan. Still, I wasn’t complaining about an absolutely fantastic end to another enjoyable trip to Motswari!

Carmine Bee-eaters
European Roller

Interestingly, a couple trips later in March, we got to see two Machaton lionesses feeding on a baby buffalo a few hundred metres away from Hide Dam! Giyani and his guests had found them running towards the sound of a bleating buffalo calf that had been left behind by the herd, and the lionesses made quick work of it.

The Machaton Pride; 4 lionesses and 1 cub
Another couple of trips up the the lodge in February and March produced a number of interesting sightings too.  These included the three Sohebele male lions that were now the only surviving members of the pride following the death of the last lionesses in March after she was killed by the Xakubasa lionesses when she arrived to try and feed off a giraffe kill of theirs. 

There were also sightings of wild dogs, the Machaton Pride, and most amazingly, a lot of water everywhere!  Including beautiful scenes as Argyle Dam and the Motswari Dam filled up after good rains in late February.

Young Sohebele Males
White Lion eating on a giraffe kill

Kuhanay Female

Giraffe Kill Lookout/Mbali Dam (clcik for larger view)
Sundowners on the banks of the Nhlaralumi Riverbed
View from the lodge's pool after the rains

Looking back at the lodge from the dam wall

The lodge's dam was almost full after the first good summer rains in five years!  What a difference it makes!
Heron Silhouette

Argyle Dam

Argyle Dam almost full at the end of summer - we are holding thumbs that the same happens this year!

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