Thursday, 31 March 2011

30th March – The Return of Argyle Male!

Photo of the Day
Kuhanya - what a great way to start off the drive!
Morning Drive
(Chad, Elliot and Johannes)
1 x leopard (Kuhanya female) – Motswari, Hanger Rd
1 x elephant bull – Argyle, Argyle Rd

Afternoon Drive
1 x leopard (Argyle Male with impala kill) – Argyle, Crossing Below Vyeboom Dam
1 x leopard (Kuhanya female) – Motswari, Bush Camp Rd (Chad and Grant saw this on a private drive)
1 x elephant bull – Argyle, Crossing Below Vyeboom Dam (Chad and Grant saw this on a private drive)
1 x elephant bull – De Luca, Western Cutline (Chad and Grant saw this on a private drive)
1 x breeding herd of buffalo – Karans, Ingwe Drive

Daily Synopsis
Wednesday was my last drive for the cycle, and a shortened one as my guests were checking out early, as were Elliot’s.  Johannes and I got out of camp 15 minutes early, and I went to check around the lodge for Kuhanya leopardess.  There was no sign of her north of the lodge, so I came back to the airstrip and stopped to watch an impala ram to tell me guests about an old saying about the African bush...basically it goes that “every morning in Africa, a Gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning a Lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest Gazelle or it will starve to death. It doesn't matter whether you are a Lion or a Gazelle... when the sun comes up, you'd better be running.”
I was half way through the story about being an antelope that needed to run to stay alive when the herd suddenly burst out into a chorus of alarm calls 50m from us!  I instantly knew there was a leopard around, and after a few minutes of searching, we found Kuhanya casually strolling along, scent-marking as she went.

After following her for a few minutes, she did something I have never seen her do before; crossed out boundary into Ingwelala – our neighbouring reserve.  I went around to see if she would pop out on Argyle property (she was right in the corner of the “wedge-shaped” boundary, and just as we spotted her, a hyena popped up heading towards Motswari, and conveniently chased Kuhanya back onto our property where we managed to relocate her and follow her for a while longer until she was lost moving along the riverbed.
Kuhanya strolling along the Sohebele Riverbed towards Motswari Camp
The hyena was going to join a small pack that Elliot had found nearby on our airstrip, and I continued with my drive.  We saw the usual impala, hippos, good birds and a herd of zebra and even a giraffe, but didn’t find any sign of Argyle male leopard; this fact annoyed me more when I later heard he was located with a large impala kill in a tree right next to a road we had driven on earlier!
Also frustrating was finding fresh tracks for that small pack of wild dogs, only to follow them straight west off the property.
I wasn’t on official drive in the evening, and Johannes was out alone, but he got to see Argyle male leopard, as well as a large breeding herd of buffalo.
Despite my afternoon off, I joined some friends for a drive at Ingwelala (clearly Kuhanya has not got traversing there!) and did actually get to see Argyle male leopard myself, albeit from 100m away as he had his kill not too far from the Ingwelala boundary.  In addition, we saw a couple of elephant bulls on the Motswari side of the Ingwelala boundary, some giraffe, baboons and impala. 
We decided to go and check our Motswari to see if Kuhanya was around, and on a hunch tried the Old Bush Camp Site, and sure enough found Kuhanya resting 7m off the road!  We spent a few minutes with her until she got up and headed in the direction of a herd of impalas near the airstrip and chose to leave her in peace – so even for me on my afternoon off, I got spoilt with some good sightings!
Both Grant and I are off drive for a few days, but we will keep you posted on what the other guides are seeing out there over the next few days!

29th March – Machaton Pride to the Rescue

Photo of the Day 

Morning Drive
(Chad, Grant, Elliot and Johannes)
11 x lions (Machaton Pride – 3 lionesses, 8 cubs on a waterbuck kill) – Tanda Tula, Eastern Cutline
1 x leopard (Thumbela Female) – Vielmetter, Vielmetter Access
1 x breeding herd of buffalo – Vielmetter, Back 9’s East
1 x breeding herd of buffalo – Peru, Voel Dam
1 x buffalo bull – Peru, Sohebele Dam

Afternoon Drive
(Chad,  Elliot and Johannes)
1 x leopard (Kuhanya female) – Motswari, Camp
1 x leopard (Thumbela female) – Vielmetter, Entrance Dam
2 x rhinos
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Peru, Wilkens Way
2 x elephant bulls – Argyle, Argyle Rd
6 x elephant bulls – Motswari, Camp
1 x buffalo bull – Argyle, Argyle Dam

Daily Synopsis
With the White Lions evidently moving further west than they have ever done before, it will be interesting to see when they decide to return; but what that does mean is that it leaves a big void in the lion sightings in the central region.  The Jacaranda pride and their cubs have also been absent for many weeks, and as they are not on Ingwelala either, their whereabouts remain unknown.  The Mahlathini males have not come out of the south-eastern pocket of the reserve that they moved into a couple of days ago – most likely lying fat bellied with a buffalo kill somewhere – and the nomadic Jacaranda Four seem to have fallen off the face of the earth.  This them didn’t help our lion sightings the last few days!
Fortunately, the Machaton Pride are always around to lend us a helping hand in our times of need, and Tuesday morning was one such time of need!  The southern stations had informed us the previous afternoon that they had located the pride and their cubs on a waterbuck kill, right on the eastern boundary, and that we were welcome to come and view them this morning, so we kindly took them up on that offer, and all of us slowly made out way down south.
Grant had an early check out, so he headed south the quickest, and spent time checking Vielmetter with some good reward.  Not only did he find a small breeding herd of buffalo, but he also found Thumbela female leopard on Double Highway.  He sounds to have had an awesome sighting of her as she wandered around chasing whatever she could; this included sprinting after a scrub hair as it zigzagged across an open area – he commented that it almost appeared that Thumbela had an identity crisis, thinking that she was a cheetah and not a stealthy leopard!  
Thumbela using the Vielmetter sign as a lookout point!

She missed that scrub hair, but not long after smacked a dead tree stump with her paw and lifted it up to reveal a squirrel that her lightning-fast reflexes had allowed her to catch!  Strangely though, she just dropped it and walked off into the Machaton Riverbed without eating her meal.  Her hunting wasn’t done, and as I pulled into the sighting, I was told to stop and watch the lone guineafowl that was wandering across the sand.  As the bird disappeared into the long grass on the bank, Thumbela came stalking across the sand and ran into the grass; there was a slight flutter of wings and then silence.  This time she actually ate her little meal, although it was in very long grass on the bank, and the sighting was a poor one.  Knowing her, I told my guests that we would rather come back in the afternoon when she would most likely be sleeping at Entrance Dam, and that we should continue south to see the lions.
Prior to the leopard, while standing by to go into the sighting, we had a nice view of a young hyena in the golden morning light waiting for its mother who soon emerged out of the Machaton Riverbed.

Hyean cub on Vielmetter

Onwards to the lions we went as the morning heated up.  Being late in the morning, and probably having fed all night, we weren’t expecting much action from them, but we did get to see all three lionesses awake and lying near the kill.  The three older cubs looked like balloons and ready to pop from eating too much, but we opted to spend the most time with the 2-month old cubs that had wandered a bit further away to sleep in the shade, and while it was a bit of a thicket, they were at least the most awake of the lions; although they soon too decided to go to sleep, but when they are so small, even when they sleep they are amazingly cute!


Machaton cubs

Kuhanya made an appearance just before lunch and had a drink at Cheetah Pan before wandering east through camp towards Wisani Trough; sadly we could relocate her during the afternoon drive though; it was a drive that started late for my guests and I because of more animals at the camp!  As we were finishing High Tea, an elephant bull approached the waterhole and then another, and another until we had 6 elephant bulls standing in front of the lodge feeding on the grass.  It was a wonderful scene and proof that sometimes the animals come to you, and you don’t need to go looking for them!
After about 40 minutes of watching them though, we did decide to go and look for some animals, and as Kuhanya did her usual and disappeared, we opted to go south again and see Thumbela who was still, as expected, resting at Entrance Dam.
En route we passed some nice general game around Argyle Dam; buffalo bulls, impala, kudu and waterbuck.

Waterbuck and kudu near Argyle Dam

We arrived at Thumbela leopardess, but she was still sleeping and didn’t do much in the afternoon; and looking at the comfortable spot she found herself – you can’t blame her!  
Thumbela in her favourite spot at Entrance Dam
After drinks, I took the decision to go east and see if I could perhaps get lucky with the Mahlathini male lions on Scholtz; but sadly I got lucky with nothing, and didn’t see much at all on the way home...but that did not put a dampener on a very enjoyable day!
Elliot found his rhinos eventually, yet unfortunately it was just after sunset, so he couldn’t view them with a spotlight.
The heat of the day eventually gave rise to a howling wind that blew in at midnight, with lightening everywhere, but again it was an empty promise of rain, and only 7mm fell during the night; we still remain hopeful that we shall receive one more bout of rain before summer officially ends!

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

28th March - Big Game!

Pic of the Day.
 Morning Drive.

( Chad, Marka, Elliot & Grant)

Buffalo ( Breeding Herd) / Argyle – Argyle Rd.
Buffalo ( Breeding Herd) / Java – Marula Overhang.
Buffalo ( Dagha Boy) / Argyle – Crossing Below Argyle Dam.
Buffalo ( Dagha Boy) / Argyle – Argyle Dam.
Elephant ( Kambaku's) / Motswari – Motswari Camp.
Elephant ( Kambaku) / Motswari – Motswari Airstrip.
Elephant ( Kambaku) / Karans – Kudu Pan Clearing.
Elephant ( Breeding Herd) / Peru – Woza Woza Cutline.
Elephant ( Breeding Herd) / Peru – Nhlaru Rd.
Leopard ( Unknown Male) / Peru – Jakkals Draai.

Afternoon Drive.

( Chad, Elliot, Grant & Johannes)

Buffalo ( Breeding Herd) / JayDee – Enkombi Rd.
Buffalo ( Breeding Herd) / Vielmieter – Hide Dam.
Buffalo ( Dagha Boy) / Argyle – Argyle Dam.
Buffalo ( Dagha Boy) / Peru – Sohobele Dam.
Elephant ( Kambaku's) / Argyle – Vyeboom Dam.
Elephant ( Kambaku) / Peru – Sohobele Dam.
Elephant ( Kambaku) / DeLuca – Drongo Drive.
Rhino ( 2 x Females).

Daily Synopsis.

The morning started with us all having our own objectives, some admittedly easier than others, and we all headed our separate ways favouring areas that would increase our chances of achieving those objectives. Chad headed to the North East, trying his luck a second time this week on locating Lions that the trackers and night watchman had heard shortly before drive. Elliot in turn headed to the South East, to try follow up on the Mahlatini Males that he believes are still in the the bottom corner of our traversing area. Not sure what Marka was looking for, in fact not sure where he was driving either, I do however know he was out there, as he found our highlight of the morning!

Our morning was to be a relaxed one due to the great sightings of the previous afternoon. We were looking for Elephant and Buffalo, as well as any other general game that came our way. With Chad and Elliot out in the East and Marka flying beneath the radar, we headed to the West to try our luck. Our morning got off to a slowish start, with even the general game proving elusive. As is our norm in these situations we turned to the birds to fill the void, and once again they did not disappoint with a great sighting of a Marshal Eagle sitting high up in a dead Knobthorn Tree surveying Mpiva Plains below for breakfast. Moving on to Sohobele Dam we found a nice group of Hippo's calling out as if to reserve their positions for the days rest. While sitting with them the radio started to come to life, with a breeding herd of Buffalo being found at Voel Dam. Being on our mornings wish list we continued in their direction. We would have to move quickly as they were heading out of our traversing area. As is typical in this situation, our previously elusive animals would now decided to make themselves visible, and in such a way that you could not casually ignore them. The culprits this time were a very relaxed herd of Kudu with young, and a small group of Waterbuck. Spending a short time with them, we were off again, only to hear that another herd of Buffalo were found South of us, resting and in no danger of crossing out of our traversing area. Having committed and to late to turn back to our offended antelope, we continued to catch our herd of Buffalo as they approached the tar road and our traversing boundary.

Having made the dash we spent a considerable amount of time with them and it was whilst sitting amongst them that the mysterious Marka called in the next members of our wish list, a breeding herd of Elephant. With the last of the Buffalo crossing over we set off in his direction, but again a detour would lie ahead in the form of a young male Leopard. We have seen him on a handful of occasions in the area, but as he is rather skittish we decided to view him from afar. Even at a distance he did not appear that settled and after a couple of minutes made his way down from his Marula Tree and into the cover of the scrub below. We decided to leave him there and not to pressurise him by following him trying to get a better view. Hopefully with time he will become accustomed to the vehicles and not see us as a threat, thus allowing us to approach closer.

Getting back to our wish list we made our way to Marka's Breeding Herd of Elephant. It appeared to be two herds in the same vicinity as although they were feeding together they seemed to be slowly moving in different directions. It was a great sighting with the bush alive with Elephants of all sizes, age and gender, interacting with one another. Our highlight of the morning.

Having found Marka, we had found his mornings objective. Unfortunately we did not come across Chad or Elliot, there objectives having escaped them for the time. They did however also enjoy a morning of Big Game.

I would join the Lion brigade in the afternoon, but first my guests had requested Giraffe, Crocodile and Zebra. Having heard of a Giraffe sighting at Vyeboom Dam in the morning, we decided to take a chance and check if it perhaps stayed in the area. It would also be a good place to look for a crocodile, and Zebra are known to frequent an open clearing not far from the dam. Arriving at the dam we were lucky enough to find two bull Elephants swimming, unfortunately we could not get to the bank where they were playing in the water due to the thick surrounding vegetation. Watching it from a distance did not detract from one of my favourite sightings. Not forgetting our mission we continued on our way but did not have to travel far before we startled a large Crocodile resting on a sand bank alongside the dam, actually not a hundred percent sure who was more surprised, us or the Crocodile.

While sitting with the Crocodile, and a Hippo who had now joined in to investigate the commotion, a Giraffe causally walked past and into a terminalia thicket to feed. The “ Luck of the Irish” appeared to be on board today. I was half tempted not to move and wait for my Zebra and Lion to walk on by, but with the Giraffe disappearing into the distance, we decided to follow a while longer. Being on a role we expected to find our Zebra in the clearing and were somewhat disappointed when they were not there, but not as disappointed as we were to be with the rest of our drive.

Things went very quite for us, and our selection of roads and areas yielded very little success. At one stage we even managed to lose the road! This is not to be confused with being lost, we knew where we where, we just didn't know where the road was! After relocating our road shortly after dusk, we received a consolation prize in the form of a small herd of Zebra making their way along an old airstrip. I guess getting three of the four of our guests requests is not bad, but after the start we had, it seemed to promise so much more!

The others had a similar afternoon with sporadic sightings of large game through out the drive. Chad however did manage to go one better than us all and locate his own Giraffe. This makes a change from having to respond to, or follow up on these now elusive creatures. If we didn't know better, we would think the White Lions had returned! Chad also found himself two Rhino's, unfortunately it was after dark and he was unable to view them, as we don't view Rhino by spotlight. Guess I didn't have the most frustrating afternoon after all!

With my, and some of Chad's guests checking out tomorrow after morning drive, and not having seen Lion, there is no guesses what we will be looking for!  

Monday, 28 March 2011

27th March – Mary had a Little Lamb...

Photo of the Day
The gorgeous Nthombi female leopard
Morning Drive
(Chad, Elliot and Marka)
1 x leopard (Kuhanya female with duiker kill) – Motswari, Reception Link
1 x breeding herd of elephant – Peru, Xinzele Rd
1 x breeding herd of elephant  - Peru, Sohebele Dam
3 x buffalo bulls – Peru, Voel Dam

Afternoon Drive
(Chad, Elliot, Marka and Grant)
3 x wild dogs – Vielmetter, Elephant Dam Solar Panels
1 x leopard (Kuhanya female with duiker kill) – Motswari, Reception Link
1 x leopard (Nthombi Female) – Vielmetter, Elephant Dam Rd
6 x rhino
1 x breeding herd of buffalo – Peru, Argyle Rd
1 x buffalo bull – Kings, Ridge Rd

Daily Synopsis
I’m going to start off the blog a little backwards today, but it will maybe explain the title of the blog a bit better!  As it says, ‘Mary had a Little Lamb’.  Now frankly, that is not entirely true, unless of course the hyena’s name really was Mary...and even if it was Mary, she didn’t just have a little lamb - she had half a leg of lamb; lamb that was meant to be for our guest’s dinner!  Yes, a hyena walked into the back of Boma and stole a massive piece of lamb off the buffet and walked out the back of the Boma to eat it!  I went to chase her, but it was too late as she had eaten it all already; although it was some consolation to watch as she ran away, she ran straight into a storeroom door!  It was like a bad slapstick comedy, but I just stood there laughing as I watched this hyena scampering away with its head to the ground (mouth probably still burning after eating such a hot meal!), and to trot head-first into a door!  Fortunately there was still the other half of the lamb and a delicious Pork-and-Beer Stew to enjoy, so none of us went hungry after a good day’s worth of game viewing at Motswari.
I returned to drive, and it is always wonderful to start off with a good sighting straight away, and Kuhanya leopardess did just that when we arrived to find her feeding on her duiker kill 300m from the camp.  After struggling with it for a while, she climbed down the tree and went to rest in the drainage line for a while.

Kuhanya feeding...Chad cursing that damn branch that ruined a potentially awesome photograph, hahaha!
Besides that, I took it relatively easy in the morning, finding a small breeding herd of elephants west of Sohebele Dam and 3 buffalos at Voel Dam where I had my coffee stop.

Elephant and buffalo from the morning drive
Heading home past Sohebele Dam, we found that a larger breeding herd of elephants was busy splashing around in the mud at Sohebele Dam.

Elephants at Sohebele Dam
Additionally we saw some impala, nice kudu bulls, lots of hippos, bushbuck and some nice birds.  Elliot had a slightly frustrating morning trying to follow up on those two male lions from yesterday, and got as far as tracking them down to a site where they had killed and finished a young buffalo, but could not find where the tracks went from there; you know they have just disappeared if Elliot can’t find them!

Baby terrapin - look how big ths tones are in relation to it!
Fortunately in the afternoon, the animals didn’t elude us.  Elliot found Kuhanya not far from the lodge, and she was followed back to where she had her kill, but she took it down from the tree and began feeding on the ground.  There was not a great deal left, but a hyena was seen walking away from the area with the skin of the duiker when we returned to camp.
I skipped on Kuhanya and planned to head south, which proved a wise choice when three wild dogs were reported near Elephant Dam, and being my favourite animal, I wasn’t going to miss that!  Getting down south was a bit trying though, and we didn’t see a great deal, but the trip down was worth it; although not for wild dogs as it happened to turn out.
Nthombi female leopard was found drinking at Elephant Dam, before wandering right past the wild dogs, with neither party becoming aware of one another!  I arrived a bit later and watched her stalk an impala herd without luck – a bit disappointing considering the good cover she had available. 

Nthombi on the prowl
 As the wild dogs drew quite a bit of attention from the guides, I was waiting to go in last to follow them on a hunt.  Sadly my timing was off, and as I approached the sighting as the last station, they were already mobile, and literally 3 seconds after arriving, they ran off the road and down towards a neighbouring lodge that I didn’t want to drive in front of, and they were gone.  Fortunately all of the other guests got to see them. 
My disappointment was short-lived, and 3-minutes later I was pulling into a sighting that my guests were far happier to see, as they had not seen these animals at the previous lodge they visited; rhinos.  A herd of six to be exact!  It was wonderful to see such a large and reasonably relaxed crash in the area that had only been found because the guys were following the wild dogs!

Crash of 6 rhinos!
There were also some buffalo and general game species around this afternoon, but again, the spotlight was taken up by the precious predators of the Timbavati!
So once more, we wait to see what tomorrow brings us!