Tuesday, 7 December 2010

A Trip Down Memory Lane: Part 2

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!

June 2010

My next trip up was in June, and while I actually stayed at my family’s place on Ingwelala next door to Motswari, I still managed a couple of drives at Motswari.

The first of which was pretty special! It started off with hearing that Argyle Male leopard had been found that morning with a large warthog kill 100m from the lodge, on the rocks behind the dam wall, so it was a great way to start the drive with a leopard after only 5 minutes! He was however understandably sleeping for the early afternoon, so I made the decision to go far south to see the Machaton lions that were found north of Impala Dam. It took us a while to get there, and besides a nice breeding herd of elephants, there wasn’t a great deal else. As I was just with some friends, and wanting to get into the lion sighting last, I didn’t mind too much, and despite their sarcastic comments, they soon forgot about the long trip down when, as we drove into the sighting, the one Timbavati Male and two Machaton lionesses all started roaring a few metres from the Land Rover! It was quite something, and when a fourth lion answered from the south, the pride got up and moved in that direction, eventually reuniting with the third lioness.

Argyle Male
The pride then moved off south with some purpose in a massive block of land, but we kept up with them until they eventually all paused and we saw some impalas ahead. Immediately we stopped and put our lights off and sat in complete darkness, straining our ears to hear any sounds of a chase or kill. After a few minutes we heard the impalas running off in confusion, but with none of the characteristic bellows that accompany a kill. We sat it out for a few minutes, still able to hear the impala, before there was again the sound of running, followed shortly by the sounds of fighting lions! With that we switched on the lights and moved towards the sounds, only to find the Timbavati Male alone with a fresh, untouched impala kill! I suspect one of the lionesses had caught it, only to have the male run in and steal it away from her, hence the fighting!

Timbavati Male with his impala kill
We then spent about 45 minutes watching the lion feeding greedily on the kill before starting the long trip back. But things weren’t over, we had a leopard at camp that needed a visit! WE arrived and found Argyle Male lying on the branch his kill had been on, but he looked unhappy and was growling continuously. I suspected he had dropped his kill, and a hyena had come in and stolen it, but when I shone around looking for a hyena, I found another leopard instead! Lying only 5m away from the biggest male in the area was a young male leopard! It all made sense when we identified him as Argyle Male’s son, Vyeboom Dam male, who had obviously come in for a free meal, but dad was having none of it! As the growls intensified from dad, the rather big son responded with amazingly cub-like sounds which too intensified as Argyle Male rose to his feet, but he seemed happy enough with his son where he was and soon lay down again, and we left them in peace.

Another drive I did with Grant saw us taking it easy in the seldom used section just north-east of the lodge. It’s a real hit or miss property, but luckily this afternoon was a hit; but mostly due to a morning’s worth of good tracking by Johannes. He had been following up on the Xakubasa Pride, and found them sleeping in the dry Hammerkop River, with the white and tawny cubs looking in good shape. A few hundred metres downstream of these lions, some other lions were also showing themselves! 

White Lion

It turned out to be a break-off portion of the Jacaranda Pride, and they had the remains of a small buffalo on the river bank, close to Mpela-pela Pan. The one adult lioness (incidentally the mother of the mother of the white lions!), one young lioness and two young males didn’t pay too much attention to the hyenas scavenging off the remains, only getting up to chase them on occasions before moving to the pan to have a drink before settling down to sleep once more.

Young Jacaranda Pride
Hyena stealing bones from the Jacaranda lions' buffalo kill
A Jacaranda lioness - also the Grandmother of the White Lions

At the end of my June trip, I actually ended up guiding some guests for a few days, with another couple of great sightings. My guests and I spent some quality time with Argyle Jnr female leopard stalking impala on Piva Plains on the first drive; we left her after an hour to go see the white lions, and found in the morning that she had actually managed to catch and kill an impala, only to have it stolen by the hyenas!

Argyle Jnr Female stalking impala
The next morning was another fantastic one; it started with Godfrey finding Kuhanya female leopard on Sohebele Dam wall, and Grant finding the white lions feeding on a baby zebra at Kudu Pan! I spent time following Kuhanya until she settled down for the morning before going off to look at the lions, most of which had had their fill and were resting; but one of the young males was still enjoying playing with the zebra’s head! After coffee, we headed the few kilometres back to camp, pleased that we hadn’t had to drive too far, yet had enjoyed a very good morning. Yet as I should have learnt by now, always expect the unexpected!

Kuhanya Female

As I was turning onto the road to take us back to camp, pleased I was going to be on time for breakfast, a call came over the radio that a cheetah had been found! Until that point in my guiding career, I had seen cheetah all of two times! So the thought of going to see it was almost a no brainer, but it was quite far from camp. I said to the guests that we could go back to camp, have breakfast and then head out again to see if we could find it. It wasn’t what I really wanted to do, but I thought I should make the suggestion. Instead the guess told me exactly what I was hoping to hear! They said they weren’t here to eat, they were here to see animals, and breakfast could wait! Before they had even finished that sentence, I was already turning the vehicle around!

Female Cheetah at Nkombi Pan
We made our way quickly south, and managed to pursued Johannes to stick with her for a few more minutes until we arrived. It was wonderful to see cheetah again, and the fact that this one had an old radio collar on allowed us quickly identify her as the last cheetah I saw in the area over 10 months ago! At that time the collar was a mystery to us, as there was no cheetah research going on in the reserve. We later learnt that she was from the neighbouring Thornybush Reserve, and had left the area with her one remaining cub after the lions there had killed the other four! Sadly though, her 13 month old cub was not with her, which could only realistically mean one thing; it was dead (although he had been seen 2-weeks before, and there is a small chance that he had merely become independent at a young age?). The fact that she had a collar on was a bit of an annoyance for me, but I soon forgot about it as she came and lay near the vehicle – quite a surprise as she is not the most relaxed individual! We followed her to Nkombi Pan where she had a drink, then followed for a while longer before heading back to camp for a rather late brunch – but with the elephant and herd of buffalo we saw on the way home, no one was complaining!

We saw Kuhanya leopardess once more in the most eastern point we had ever seen her; on Kudu Pan Clearing! But the highlight for most of the guests was a great sighting we had of the Machaton Pride and two Timbavati male lions. They were sleeping in a relatively narrow section of the Machaton riverbed; well I hadn’t noticed how narrow it was until a bit later I the sighting! The lionesses eventually got up and walked within a metre of the car, and that was special, and not too scary. When the males got up to follow, the riverbed suddenly didn’t seem as wide as it had before. I decided to follow the lionesses, with the males following us, until the lionesses lay down, and blocked my easy path out the riverbed. I pulled a vehicles length off the two-track we had earlier made, and as far to the side as I could, leaving plenty of space for the males to walk past. The first walked past us in the ‘far’ vehicle track, all of 4m from us, not even stopping to pay the slightest bit of attention to our presence. In my side mirror, I could see the second male walking in the nearer of the two-tracks, not that this was an issue, bar the fact that I was parked less than a metre off this track. Surely he wouldn’t walk past us that close...would he? Well, as we found out, the answer was ‘yes, he would!’.

Machaton Lioness
Male lions are big. Very big in fact. But I can tell you they look even bigger when they are standing less than a metre from your door! When he stopped half a metre from my tracker, my heart stopped, but Difference just smiled! He knew as well as I did, that nothing was going to happen! We are so fortunate to have animals like this in the reserve that have grown up with vehicle contact and go about their lives as if we are not even there! While we had nice sightings of elephant, buffalo and Mali female leopard walking past our vehicle even closer than the lions, it was the lion sighting that the guests told me would stick in their minds forever, and I can’t blame them!

Nile Crocodile
Female Kudu
Tree Squirrel

Female Giraffe
Burchell's Coucal

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