Tuesday, 31 May 2011

30th May – Elephant Invasion

Photo of the Day
Elephant Herd at Argyle Dam
Morning Drive
(Marka and Herald)
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Motswari, Sean’s Clearing
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Vielmetter, Elephant Dam
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Jaydee, Makulu Da,

Afternoon Drive
(Marka and Herald)
1 x leopard (Shongile female) – Motswari, Sharalumi Pump House
1 x breeding herd of buffalo – Motswari, Airstrip
1 x breeding herd of elephant – Motswari, Hanger Rd
1 x breeding herd of elephant – Argyle, Argyle Dam

Daily Synopsis
I wasn’t on drive today, but I did join Marka in the afternoon.  The morning sounded a bit quiet on the big game front, with only the elephants being out in force, and three large breeding herds of elephants were seen by the guides over the course of the morning.
In the afternoon, both Herald and Marka continued their search for leopard, and I guess it was no surprise that in the end, Herald found one!
The afternoon started off slowly, with only a few smaller species shoeing themselves before a nice breeding herd of elephants at Argyle Dam became our highlight of the afternoon.

Elephant herd
It was great to see them all feeding out in the open and some even crossed the water for us.  Once more, it was the little babies that stole the show!

Baby elephant
We carried on the drive checking the northern sections for leopard, but had no luck – we did temporarily get thrown off course by some fresh buffalo tracks, and it didn’t take us long to track the herd down to Motswari Airstrip.  What was interesting was that it appeared to be the same herd as we found in the area yesterday morning...the only difference was that now there were at least four times as many!!!  The herd of 70 had multiplied into a herd of at least 250-plus!

Buffalo herd
There was one particular individual that allowed us to recognise the herd, and it seems probably that they simply joined up with a larger group during the previous day.
Following on from that we went for a drink and found some nice kudus along the way.

Kudu bull, followed by a sundowner on the banks of Vyeboom Dam
We had no sooner closed for drinks when Herald found Shongile female leopard up north, on Motswari Wedge.  After finishing drinks, we headed in that direction, but sadly the guides lost her as she headed into a thick area of terminalia.
Marka tried his best to relocate, but his efforts were in vain, and we sadly had to return to the lodge without seeing the beautiful cat.  I guess there is always tomorrow to try again!

30th May - Congratulations Grant...I know a good Doctor!

When most of us were still sleeping in our warm beds at 5h30 yesterday morning, some of us were getting up to do a game drive...and then others like, Grant, were getting up to go for a run.

By 10h00, most of us were out of bed and getting ready for breakfast, others were returning from their early morning game drive...and others, like Grant, were still running.

At 14h30, most of us were enjoying a nice lazy Suday afternoon, while others were getting ready for High Tea before afternoon game drive...and others, like Grant, were still running.

Yes.  8h53 minutes after starting to run at 5h30 in the morning, our dear old Head Guide, Grant "I Should Maybe See a Doctor About This Habit" Murphy, completed a gruelling 87km Ultra-Marathon (between Durban and Pietermaritzburg)!  While none of us here can understand why he would want to do it, we can only applaud him very loudly for undertaking this challenge yet again, and finishing in a great time!

Richard and Grant after running 87km and not even sweating??? 
So just want to say from all of us here at Motswari, a Huge Congratulations for your achievements (and for your brother, Richard, who ran with you!)...you did us proud!!!  And the best part of it; you didnt even get eaten by anything during all of your training!

The Bronze Bill Rowan Medal that Grant won (he was - Bill, not Grant - the first winner of the Comrades in 1921, and ran a time of 8h59....if Grant started his running career a bit earlier, he would have beaten Bill)

Well done mate, and almost time to start preparing for Comrades 2012....if it's any consolation, at least next year is a "downhill" run!

PS - and come see me, I have the name of a good Doctor!

Monday, 30 May 2011

29th May – Machaton Pride Still Following Buffalo Herd

Photo of the Day
Kuhanya - Supermodel of the North
Morning Drive
(Chad and Marka)
1 x leopard (Kuhanya female) – Motswari, Sean’s Clearing
1 x breeding herd of buffalo – Argyle, Motswari Airstrip Rd
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Motswari, Bush Braai Rd

Afternoon Drive
(Chad, Marka and Herald)
12 x lions (Machaton Pride – 3 x lionesses and 9 x cubs) – Vielmetter, Vielmetter Access
1 x breeding herd of buffalo – Argyle, Argyle Dam
1 x breeding herd of buffalo – Vielmetter, Back Nine’s East
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Argyle, Argyle Dam
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Motswari, Airstrip
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Vielmetter, Crossing Below Entrance Dam
1 x elephant bull – Peru, Sohebele Plains
1 x elephant bull – Vielmetter, Vielmetter Access

Daily Synopsis
Sunday was another good day in the Timbavati.  Getting out in the fresh morning chill to watch the sun rising in the east was special enough, but having Marka radio to tell me that he had a leopard within the first 10-minutes of drive was even better, and was enough to draw me away from the beautiful herd of kudus I was watching.
Male Kudu
I made my way towards Xinatsi Dam area, stumbling across impalas and a breeding herd of elephants that I also had to temporarily neglect.  I arrived to join Marka and found our supermodel leopard, Kuhanya, standing posing on the road, with the early morning light catching her from behind.  She then came ambling down the road towards us, and right underneath the back seat of the Land Rover.  What a special treat!

Kuhanya giving us a "walk-by"
We then followed her as she went into a Mopane thicket, and after a short grooming session, she began stalking something.  We patiently waited as she edged closer to her invisible quarry.  It was a patient wait for us, as for most of the time we could see very little of her besides the odd spot as she slid silently through the undergrowth.

Cleaning and stalking...all in a morning's work for Kuhanya
Eventually we ran out of patience, and seemingly so did Kuhanya as she got up and walked off, with none of us actually ever seeing what it was that she was stalking!
Excellent camouflage
We headed over towards Argyle Dam to try locate a breeding herd of buffalo that had come past the lodge in the middle of the night.  There were a few impala and a waterbuck around, but the most interesting thing was finding a dead impala next to the road.  It was a hear-and-a-half old female, and no sign of any predator having touched her.  There was one wound on her left flank, and all we can surmise is that she was jabbed by the horn of a male impala in the rut, and it punctured her lung perhaps?  Sad for her, but will be a treat for the next predator that wanders past there!
After coffee at the dam, we heard our herd of elephants trumpet nearby and went and found them just near the southern side of Argyle Dam and spent some good time watching them feeding around the vehicle, at total ease with our presence.

Breeding herd of elephants
One interesting thing was when a mother elephant defecated, and her baby wandered over to investigate the fresh pile of droppings, and then began to eat a few pieces.  This is done to help introduce the microbial organisms into its digestive system, in the same way that a zebra foal will eat its mothers droppings too.

Elephant calf eating mom's dung
After the elephants, we searched again for the buffalo, and realising that they hadn’t come out of the block east of Argyle Dam, we went inside following their tracks and soon found he small herd of about 60 or 70 buffalo slowly waking up from their morning’s rest.  When we realised that they weren’t heading straight to Argyle Dam, we headed back to the lodge for some breakfast.

Breeding herd of buffalo near Argyle Dam
In the afternoon, I took out some Ingwelala guests, and it was a drive I was dead keen to get out on for I knew what was waiting on our southern traversing area. 
The drive started out with impala, warthogs and kudu on the airstrip.  Making our way over to check the dead impala near Argyle Dam, we found both the breeding herd of elephants and breeding herd of buffalo feeding on the grassy areas surrounding Argyle Dam.  Not a bad scene; elephants on the right, buffalo on the left!

Breeding herds of elephants and buffalos arounf Argyle Dam
Nothing had touched the impala, and after a quick scan of the area where Kuhanya had last been in the morning, I headed south.  We did find a beautiful African Hawk Eagle along the way and snapped some nice shots as he took off.

African Hawk Eagle taking-off
Along the way, we also found some waterbuck, more impalas and kudus.

Waterbuck and kudu
Arriving down on Vielmetter, we got to see the very large breeding herd of buffalos that have been having around in the south.  It was only after driving through the herd that we really appreciated how large the group was – easily 400-500 buffalo!  We also found our special Spotted Buffalo!  Not the spots we were after, but still an interesting animal to see!

Massive breeding herd of buffalo - including our "spotted friend"
Leaving the buffalo, we didn’t travel far before finding an exceptionally vocal herd of elephants near Entrance Dam.  The most impressive aspect was the large musthe bull that was following them, with quite an impressive set of ivory on him!

Breeding herd of elephants with one large bull in attendance
We followed him as we made our way to the drive’s main event.  He came upon a small mudwallow and put on a fantastic display as he dug his large tusks into the ground and ripped up the earth to loosen the sand!  We literally only had to drive 30m to see what we came to see...

What an impressive display from an even more impressive bull!
For the first time since they were born, the Machaton lionesses had brought their cubs onto our property!  The 12 lions were resting in the open south of Entrance Dam, no doubt drawn into the area, still in pursuit of the buffalo herd that they were following yesterday.

Machaton Pride near Entrance Dam
The cubs were their usual active selves, playing around with one another, fighting, attacking bushes and being as cute as they always are.  The light was fading quickly, so after a few minutes, I offered my spot to one of the southern stations, and temporarily pulled back while he enjoyed the sighting, but rejoined Herald after Scotch had left.

Playful Machaton Cubs
We then sat with the pride until darkness had taken away any chance of seeing them without the light.  The lionesses were listening to the buffalo nearby, as well as the eery trumpeting and screaming of the elephants!  It reminded me so much of the screeching Tyrannosaurus Rex from Jurassic Park!  Sadly though, the buffalo were not alluring enough to get them active while we were watching, and we left them still in the same spot.
Heading back to the camp produced nothing but a sore arm (shining a spotlight and driving isn’t easy!).  We again checked on the dead impala, but only the elephants had moved it a few metres.  We also found a breeding herd of elephants at the back of the camp. 
John, our night watchman, did see a leopard walk past the reception and up to the staff village, where some of the staff saw her too.  I am pretty sure it was Shongile female. 
So tomorrow could be potentially interesting; a dead impala begging to be eaten, and some hungry lions following a herd of buffalos...let’s just wait and see what happens!  Im not on drive, but will keep you all informed of what happens J