Wednesday, 29 June 2011

28th June – Lions at Last!!!

Photo of the Day
Male rhino
Morning Drive
(Chad, Colbert, Marka and Herald)
1 x lion (Sohebele male) – Ingwelala, Argyle Rd
2 x rhino (2 x male white rhinos)
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Ntsiri, Argyle Rd
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Peru, Giraffe Kill Lookout
1 x breeding herd of elephants, Mbali, Java-Mbali
1 x breeding herd of elephants, Mbali, Terminalia
1 x elephant bull – De Luca, Mpela-pela Northern Access
1 x elephant bull – Mbali, Mbali River Rd

Afternoon Drive
(Chad, Colbert and Herald)
12 x lions (Machaton Pride – 3 x lionesses and 9 x cubs) – Umlani, Donga Lookout
1 x leopard (Argyle Jnr female) – Peru, Entrance Rd
3 x rhino (male, female and calf)
2 x rhino (2 x male white rhinos)
1 x rhino (Nhlangula Male)
1 x breeding herd of buffalo – Scholtz, Big Dam
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Jaydee, Tamboti Pan
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Mbali, Mcau Rd
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Vielmetter, Western Sharalumi
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Kings, Argyle Rd
1 x elephant bull – Scholtz, Mananga Cutline
1 x elephant bull – Motswari, Camp

Daily Synopsis
While I have been only too happy with all the leopards of late, the other guides have been feeling the pressure for lions, and with only the ultra-skittish Mafikizolo Pride being around (although not seen), we have not had an easy few days.
It was thus rather exciting when Colbert radioed in fresh tracks for lions on our southern access road, and a few of us immediately began tracking as the tracks headed north; sadly though, it quickly became apparent that they had most likely already crossed into Ingwelala, and sure enough, we found tracks crossing over our most northern boundary.  We automatically assumed that the tracks were for the Jacaranda Pride, but still held hope that the tracks Giyani had for the Mafikizolo Pride near Java Dam would hold something.  Only later did we realise that the lion tracks were one and the same, and that they had walked form Elephant Dam near our southern border straight into Ingwelala – easily covering 15-20km during the night!
We all slowly made our way out of the area, me looking for leopards, Marka desperate for lion, and Colbert and Herold looking for anything.  Herold went west along the tar road and found a large breeding herd of elephants...Marka went that same road a few minutes later and found one of the Sohebele young male lions walking down the middle of the road!  Sadly, before either Colbert or Herold could get there, he crossed into Ingwelala and was gone.
My drive didn’t produce much, a hyena following the scent trial of the lions (albeit in the wrong direction!), a few impalas, steenbok and then down towards Mbali Dam where we saw a nice Martial Eagle.  I had no sooner stopped to admire him when I looked up and saw two rhinos at the water’s edge of Mbali Dam.  

Hyena on the scent trail of the lions - pity he was going in the wrong direction!

Martial Eagle and white rhino with hippos
We finished watching the eagle before going to relocate the rhinos – it was two males, the same two that had been up north yesterday, and they seemed reasonably relaxed for new rhinos.  We followed at a distance waiting for some other stations to arrive, but they soon crossed the Nhlaralumi and disappeared. 

Martial eagle in flight, and two male white rhinos
While watching them on foot, we also had a lone elephant bull feeding in the riverbed, as well as a pair of saddle-billed storks.

Elephant bull and saddle-billed storks while watching the rhinos on foot
A bit further along the riverbed, there was a large breeding herd of elephants, and even opposite that, in the area where the rhinos suddenly vanished, there was a great deal of elephant activity, from Mbali Dam to Java Dam.

Breeding herd of elephants approaching giraffe kill lookout
I slowly headed back to camp, not seeing anything exciting.
The afternoon for me proved to be a bit of a quiet one; well, at least compared to Colbert and Herold’s drives!  They both had a similar game plan, and that was to go way down south to Umlani to see the Machaton Pride.  They saw them, and had wonderful sightings of the nine cubs playing around – all the guests were beaming when they got back from drive, which was wonderful to see!  It wasn't only the lions; they also both got to see at least four or five large breeding herds of elephants all over the show, as well as the relaxed Nhlangula male rhino!  Not bad!
I had a frustrating morning, so took it easy in east, and just wanted to spend some time without worrying about leopards, seeing other vehicles and just wanted to drive a different area!  Dave had made the suggestion that I should drive Scholtz...I said that I wouldn’t as I actually wanted to see animals!
That being said, the lure of the unknown drew me east...and soon enough I had crossed through Kudu Pan Clearing and was driving into Scholtz.  I always love the property, but it can be notoriously hit or miss!  As I made my way towards the Sohebele Riverbed, I didn’t even see an impala.  Oh great, it was going to be a big miss day!
That was until I decided to check on one of the natural pans and saw the shape of a rhino through the mopanes, but didn’t think it could be...I was half right; it wasn't a was three of them!  They ran off, but I decided to try my luck, and eventually caught up with them -  male, female and calf, and followed them at a slight distance for some time, and for nervous rhinos, they gave us a good sighting, not once running as we followed behind through some sometimes-thick bush.  After we passed found a road, we left them and carried on checking along the river.

Crash of rhinos

As we arrived at Big Dam, there was a large herd of buffalo finishing off their drink before heading back north. 

Buffalo herd at Scholtz Big Dam

A bit further along, we saw a lone elephant bull, and one steenbok.  No impalas, but three of the Big 5 in an area that supposedly has no animals – not bad Chad – good call Dave!
I then moved back west to look for leopards, and while we only found impala and kudu going past Hide Dam towards Elephant Dam, it was just so beautiful driving around as the golden light bathed the bush.  Winter is indeed a wonderful time to visit the bush.
Yellow-billed hornbill
After sundowners at Elephant Dam, Johannes told me that he had found a leopard near Concrete Crossing.  He thought it was Mbali, but then correctly identified her as Argyle Jnr female, and she was hunting impalas until a clan of hyenas arrived and chased her up a tree!

Sunndowners at Elephant Dam with Agnes and Sylvie

I tried my best to get there before she descended to start hunting the impalas again, but arrived a minute too late.  As she was showing interest in the impalas, we didn’t shine on her until she moved off to go after a less alert herd.  She was trotting off, but we soon realised it was because the three hyenas were coming up behind her.  She managed to lose them, but carried on stalking some impalas, and I decided to rather leave her in peace than potentially disturb her hunt, and carried on back to the lodge.  We did see civet and hyena on the way.

Argyle Jnr female on the prowl
So while Colbert and Herold had great quality sightings, for me the quality wasn't as good as the days before...but I still got to see some pretty good things, so I guess I shouldn’t complain too much!
Let’s hope for some good quality sightings tomorrow! 

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

27th June – Leopard Mystery Solved!!!

Photo of the Day
Mbali female - so good to have her around again!
Morning Drive
(Chad, Colbert, Marka and Herald)
1 x leopard (Mbali female) – Peru, Xikari Rd
1 x leopard (Argyle Jnr female with impala kill) – Argyle, Boerbean Rd
1 x leopard (Argyle Jnr’s male cub) – Argyle, Boerbean Rd
2 x rhino (2 female white rhinos)
4 x buffalo bulls – Motswari, Giraffe Pan
2 x buffalo bulls – Motswari, Wedge Rd East
1 x elephant bull – Motswari, Trough Rd

Afternoon Drive
(Chad, Colbert, Marka and Herald)
1 x leopard (Mbali female) – Argyle, Piva Plains
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Vielmetter, Western Sharalumi
4 x elephant bulls – Motswari, Wedge River Rd
5 x elephant bulls – Motswari, Sharalumi Access
2 x buffalo bulls – Motswari, Wedge River Rd
1 x buffalo bull – Motswari, Sharalumi Access

Daily Synopsis
We once again woke to a chilly morning, and perhaps it was just the fact that we were slowly adjusting to the winter conditions, but it did feel a touch warmer than the morning before.
Our trackers, Petros and Tiyani, all wrapped up for the morning drive...which despite what it might look like, does not include robbing a bank!
I once again had the mission to find leopard.  Considering that Kuhanya (most likely) had walked past the camp last night, and the fact that Argyle male leopard had spent the night calling in and around camp, and was seen in the riverbed in front of the verandah shortly before the guests arrived for coffee, we all thought that we had a great chance of finding leopard near the camp.  Herold soon picked up tracks for a male and female leopard 300m from the camp, and our trackers began tracking.  Sadly though, as the morning went on, and tracks for a third leopard were found in the area, it all got too confusing and they were unable to find any of the leopards. 
Fortunately though, the same could not be said for the rest of the reserve, and four different leopards were found during the course of the morning – the only one that none of us saw was Rockfig Jnr down on King’s property. 
I headed west to see what was happening with Voel Dam female and her kill.  There wasn't a great deal about in the chill of the morning, but we saw the usual impala and some nice birds, including one of the ubiquitous flocks of guineafowls that arrived at Buffalo Pan for a drink.

Guineafowl and Burchell's starling
Carrying on to the see what was happening with the leopard, I stopped to watch some giraffe and was overtaken by another guide who had the same idea.  He was just in front of me and said that he could see the leopard in the tree, but as I pulled in behind him, all I saw was the kill, the leopard had run away!  Surely such a nervous leopard could not be Argyle Jnr.  I decided to wait at the kill, then heard this other guide’s guests say they could see the leopard, and he called to tell me the leopard had been chased up a tree by a hyena, but then ran down and was chased up another tree!  I was almost ready to leave and rather go to see Mbali female that had been found near Francolin Pan, but I saw this leopard in the tree in the distance and sat about 70m away and looked with binoculars.  It looked like it could indeed be the Voel Dam female, a similar face, but a lot more bulk.  The leopard soon jumped down the tree and disappeared, and I didn’t bother even trying to follow up.

I left the area, and went back along the road past the kill, only to see another leopard now up the tree feeding on the kill!  This was Argyle Jnr, and I recognised her instantly.  While at first I thought that she had indeed just stolen the kill from Voel Dam female, but it was only when reviewing my photos after drive that I saw the more male-like face of the unknown leopard, and a few frames later, some other rather male like apparatus under the tail that I realised what was going on. 

Argyle Jnr's male offspring and Argyle Jnr feeding on her kill - mystery solved!
It had been Argyle Jnr’s kill all along, as I initially suspected, but her male cub was in the area still trying to get some last free meals before he becomes independent!  So, mystery solved, there never was any Voel Dam female in the area, and after the sighting, I was quite chuffed, as we had a great viewing of Argyle Jnr.

One of my guests, Sylvie, filming the feeding leopard
We spent much of the morning watching as she was up in the small marula tree feeding on the carcass.

Argyle Jnr feeding on the impala kill
There was also one patient hyena waiting below that got several large scraps as what little remained of the impala was eaten my Argyle Jnr.

Hyena waiting for scraps
Eventually she had eaten her share, and then decided to clean herself up and jump down the tree before wandering off and disappearing.

Argyle Jnr finishing her kill, cleaning up adn then leaving!
We carried on with the drive and went for coffee at Voel Dam.  There were some zebras there, but besides that, we didn’t see a great deal else; hippos, baboons, crocodiles, waterbuck and steenbuck.
The other guides got to see Mbali, and then Marka went south to go and see two female rhinos that had been found on our property.
In the afternoon, with some new guests in the lodge, we all had our own missions.  Mine was again to try and find some of the leopards whose tracks had been around the camp earlier, well, all except Argyle Male, as some of our guests saw him walking along the tar road near Ingwelala on their way to the lodge, not a bad start!
North of camp, I found two sets of groupings of elephant and buffalo bulls on the wedge, and spent some time with the one group of five elephant bulls.  Herold found tracks for a female leopard on top of all our vehicle tracks from the morning, but sadly, for the umpteenth time this week, our resident leopards eluded us!

Relaxed elephant bull...less relaxed Petros :) (okay, he wasnt fussed at all!)
I carried on to follow up on Mbali as I hadn’t seen her this morning, but got distracted when two rhinos were radioed in the beautiful setting of the Nhlaralumi Riverbed below Vyeboom Dam.  Sadly as I was on my way, they left the area and eventually crossed into Ingwelala before any of our guides could relocate them.
I carried on and enjoyed more giraffes, waterbuck, two troops of baboons, hippos and impala. 

Giraffe, waterbuck and impalas
It was while checking around for Mbali that she was located crossing below Lover’s Leap, some distance from where she had been left in the morning.  I moved into the area quickly, as the sun was setting and she was moving onto Piva Plains – only four magnificent kudu bulls on the same clearing slowed me down before I arrived at the leopard.

Kudu bulls on Piva Plains
We got there with just a few minutes of light left, and enjoyed as she walked about on the clearing, spotting a herd of impalas in the distance.

Mbali on Piva Plains
She slowly stalked in their direction, using the woodland thickets on the edge of the clearing for cover.

Mbali, a cool customer!
She eventually went static for some time, waiting for a bit more darkness to set in before once more making a move in their direction.  As it was getting dark, I let Herold come into the sighting and I went and had a nice sundowner with a hippo at Argyle Dam.

Mbali stalking some impala
After drinks, we once again tried looking for leopards around the lodge, but the only spots we found were those of a spotted hyena.

Sundowners and photo time at Argyle Dam
Some of the other guides tried to look for the Mafikizolo Pride, but they are proving to be as elusive as our northern leopards!
We can only hope that tomorrow brings some lions, because as content as my guests and I are to look at leopards all day, we desperately need some lions!