Friday, 30 September 2011

29th September: Visualising Tracks.

Pic of the Day.
Morning Drive.

( Herold, Grant, Godfrey & Petros.)

Buffalo ( Dagha Boys) / Motswari – Motswari Camp.
Buffalo ( Dagha Boys) / Peru – Peru Cutline.
Rhino ( Rose & Maria + Large Male)
Lion ( Machaton Pride: 3 x Females & 7 x Cubs) / Umlani – Middle Rd.

Afternoon Drive.

( Herold, Grant & Petros.)

Lion ( Machaton Pride: 3 x Females & 7 x Cubs) / Umlani – Middle Rd.
Elephant ( Breeding Herd) / Vielmieter – Blue Waxbill.
Elephant ( Kambaku) / Umlani – Donga Lookout.
Leopard ( Rockfig Jnr) / Vielmieter – Double Highway.
Leopard ( Unknown Male) / Motswari – Motswari Camp.

Daily Synopsis.

Waking to a Leopard calling North of my room the day promised a lot. This was backed-up when we arrived at morning coffee and the waiters mentioned that they had seen the Leopard drinking at the water in front of camp shortly before everyone arrived for their caffeine fix, which they got to share with a group of Dagha Boys who have taken to sleeping in the clearing in front of camp.

With new guests on my vehicle that had been to Zambia previously and seen plenty Elephant and Buffalo but no cats, they were obviously after something with sharp teeth and claws of the feline family. Hoping to make their wish come true we headed to the North to follow up on our Leopard. While Herold checked to the East, Johannes and I checked to the North and the West. We knew it could not be far as the resident camp monkeys were still alarm calling in our direction. It was not long before Johannes picked up on a drag mark but on following up he discovered that Hyena had also picked up on it and had stolen it from the Leopard. He continued to check along the Sohobele Riverbed on the Northern side while I drove in the riverbed checking on either bank. We were nearly directly opposite camp when we simultaneously came across a Impala carcass hanging in an Apple Leaf Tree. A fair amount had been eaten and it was no wonder the Leopard had headed for a drink as this helps with the digestion. From the tracks we knew we were looking for a young male Leopard but try as we could we could not locate him. We checked up and down the riverbed a number of times but came up empty handed. The frustrating thing was that the monkeys were still going crazy and they could obviously still see him. The saying that you will only see a Leopard if it wants you to, stood true and we eventually made our way out the area to try somewhere else. I think after dark we will have better luck and we will try again tonight.

The rest of our morning was to be fairly quiet only picking up on general game here and there. We did however visit three Rhino that Godfrey had found earlier. This was his sole function for the morning and he made very short work of it, typical Godfrey! He also picked up on a nice Dagha Boy herd that is about twenty strong and also makes for an impressive sighting.

Petros chose to make the long, long journey South and visit the Machatons on their Giraffe kill. Not having spoke to him I'm sure he had a great sighting of this ever impressive pride.

We have a feeling the cats may sense that we are looking for them as while having our morning coffee we heard the distinctive alarm calls of Impala. Finishing up and the Impala still calling we headed in their direction to investigate. We found the herd looking into the Riverbed below Makhulu Dam but could not see what had upset them, which is no surprise given the terrain we were looking into. We continued around the area hoping to get lucky but all we came up with were the fresh tracks for a young female Leopard. So once again we closed our eyes and had to envisage her walking across the dam wall and into the reeds of the riverbed below.

Lets hope we can open our eyes this afternoon and see the actual thing!

With plans to head to the far South we got an early start but as is usual we found ourselves distracted by a number of things a long the way. We intended to head straight South to Umlani to visit the Machaton Pride and see how far they had progressed with their Giraffe Kill. The first thing that we made a detour for was a Hippo carcass that was found below one of the dams, from the visible injuries around the hind leg area it looks like he came to his demise from an encounter with another Hippo. The carcass had attracted a fair few vultures but they were struggling to get through the extremely thick hide. I'm sure over night the wonderful aroma will attract the Hyena's and they will help in opening up the carcass. We'll keep an eye on it.

Getting back to the business at hand we continued South but it was not long before another distraction got hold of us. This time it was the tracks for the three Rhino we had in the morning which we now found a little further to the East of where they had been. Having been a warm afternoon we thought they would not be far and spent a little time checking the immediate area. Not coming up with anything we toyed with the idea of setting Jacky on foot while I headed South but chose not to as we did not think we would get down there and back before dark. Specially given our tendency of losing focus and being easily distracted.

It was just as well we didn't because when we pulled into the Lion sighting there were not many vehicles responding and we were able to spend the entire evening with them. We were pleasantly surprised as they were active some of them feeding while others drifted off to a nearby waterhole to drink. It was a great sighting specially as the sun began to set and we had the Hyena's starting to arrive on scene. We finally left the sighting after the last two cubs finished off drinking with the sun setting behind them and they made there way back to the kill. We were all amazed that the mothers would allow them to stray so far away from their side with so many Hyena in and around the area.

We stopped off for a quick sundowner which we were fortunate to spend with an Elephant Bull that fed down in the Riverbed below us, before setting off on the long journey North. As we were heading home I'd had this feeling we would find Leopard. I guess because we were running on a tight schedule something would have to pop up and delay us. I was not wrong as we found Rockfig Jnr wandering through her territory marking it. We followed her for a while mesmerised by her beauty and elegance, getting ever later. She finally gave us the opportunity to leave as she went into hunt mode and we did not want to disturb her.

Petros and Herold had themselves an afternoon in the North where they had a great herd of Elephant of all shapes and sizes. By the sounds of things they spent nearly their entire afternoon with them as they went about, drinking, feeding and even playing. Herold also had enough time to visit the sight of the Impala kill opposite camp after dark. He found a young male Leopard there but he was not very relaxed and even with the cover of darkness he moved off to the thicker vegetation for cover. I wonder which Leopard he is?

Hearing that the Wilddogs are in the South we can hope that they will head North for us tomorrow.  

Thursday, 29 September 2011

28th September: Off The Reservation!

Pic of the Day.
 Morning Drive.

( Herold, Grant & Chad.)

Rhino ( 2 x Males)
Buffalo ( Dagha Boys) / Peru – No Name Rd.
Elephant ( Breeding Herd) / Kings – Hyena Rd.
Leopard ( Argyle Male) / Vielmieter – Martin's Rd.
Lion ( Machaton Pride: 3 x Females & 7 x Cubs) / Umlani – Middle Rd.

Afternoon Drive.

( Herold, Grant & Godfrey.)

Lion ( Mahaton Pride: 3 x Females & 7 x Cubs) / Umlani – Middle Rd.
Rhino ( Tshangula)

Daily Synopsis.

Waking to cloudy sky's and far more suitable temperatures the only thing we could complain about was the slight wind, which had not died down from the previous evening, but I guess you can't have everything! Thinking the conditions would be far more suitable for game-viewing we set off in a positive mood. Both Chad and myself checked around camp hoping to get lucky with Leopard before we turned our attentions to the West for Rhino. Herold headed North to check whether or not the Timbavati and Jacaranda Prides had not returned to our traversing area. Although he did not get lucky with finding their tracks he did pick up on two Rhino's that he got to spend a considerable time with. Chad and I both did not respond as we backed ourselves in the West with more relaxed Rhino's. Writing this down now I guess this is were we both made our mistake as for the next two hours we struggled to find anything, that includes Impala! At one stage we did pick up on tracks but after a short follow up they exited our traversing area.

Jacky and I continued South and criss crossed all the area's that they like to hang out but came up empty handed. During all of this though we did pick up on male Leopard tracks which we called in but ignored as any male that we found in this area would be skittish and more than likely run off, certainly not worth the effort. It was only a while later that we picked up on the tracks again this time we found where it had urinated against a tree indicating it was very recent. After following up for a short distance Jacky called out the distinctive words, “ Ingwe!” There off to the right of us sitting on a termite mound was this monster male. I quickly hushed my vehicle fearing that he would get wind of us and run off but he seemed totally unperturbed by us. Viewing him from a distance, so we all got to see him before trying to get any closer, he looked awfully familiar. As we crept closer he totally ignored us and took on the familiar shape and size of Argyle Male, but that would be impossible as he would be many kilometres from his territory in the North and no one had ever seen him this far South. Sure enough as we got to within ten metres of him there was no mistaking that this was our dominant male of the North here far in the South. Amazed we called it in, still not believing it was possible but sure enough there before us stood Argyle Male. When stations heard we had Argyle Male they responded eagerly but had to be told twice the location, not believing they had heard correctly the first time. After getting the location they then questioned the identification. It was only after a number of stations had visited the sighting that the rumours were confirmed! We are not sure why he has ventured so far South it could perhaps be that he is encountering pressure up in the North from another bigger male or he is broadening his territory, only time will tell. We also received news from another camp that is even further South than where we had located him, that he had seen him around his camp a couple of nights prior to this morning. The guys eventually followed him heading North at speed, I guess he wanted to get home.

Being so far South and hearing that the Machaton Pride had been found on a fresh Giraffe Kill on Umlani we continued South to take a look. The position that they killed it was on the Southern boundary of the area that we are invited to traverse. We had never been this far South and looked at it as another adventure. Finding the sighting with relative ease we found the majority of the cubs still feeding while the mothers lay in the shade and rested. The kill must have been made earlier in the morn as not much had been eaten and while we sat there the mom's actually returned to feed having recovered from their effort in the hunt. It is great to see this pride doing so well and the moms taking such good care of their youngsters, they certainly have become great hunters of large game. Having had our fill of blood and guts we made the extremely long journey back to camp having had a great sighting of this pride once more. A big thank you must go out to Umlani for the invitation and to the stations in the South for sharing this with us!

Our afternoon's mission was to find Rhino. We decided we would also try include Zebra so we headed out to the open areas of the East. This also happened to be the area that the two Rhino from the morning were also headed. Being another very warm afternoon we thought we would get lucky around one of the few watering spots in the area.

While we stuck around the North, Godfrey and Herold chose to head South and visit the Machatons and their Giraffe kill. I'm not sure where Petros disappeared to as I did not hear from him the whole afternoon.

Our drive was to be a very quiet one and we once again only found tracks that led us further and further South. Having checked all the drinking spots and finally reaching our Southern Boundary we decided to turn to the West and try our luck there. It's amazing how much time you have when you are seeing nothing. Approaching the central area of our traversing we picked up on tracks for two Rhino heading to the West towards Java Dam but before reaching the dam. The voice of, the previously thought to be lost, Petros came over the radio to inform me that he had located Tshangula, one of our relaxed male Rhino's. With the light failing us we did not waste any time in trying to follow up on the tracks we had found and headed off in his direction. With the majority of the stations in the South we had him all to ourselves and we got to spend the remainder of our afternoon with him as he fed slowly down to one of the dams.

Having completed our mission we headed back North on a feeling that Kuhanya was to be found around Motswari, unfortunately that feeling was off as we found nothing in and around the camp. We did however stumble across a beautiful dinner in the bush which we promptly invited ourselves to and spent the rest of our evening enjoying a traditional South African Braai out in the African bush. Thanks to Leigh and your team it was a great evening, it looked fantastic and you even got the weather to play along!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

27th September: The White Lions, A Pride Reunited?

Morning Drive.

( Herold & Grant.)

Buffalo ( Dagha Boys) / DeLuca – DeLuca/ Luttig Cutline.
Leopard ( Ntombi) / Kings – Double Highway.
Wilddog ( 10 x pack) / Kings – Airstrip Rd.

Afternoon Drive.

( Herold, Grant & Chad.)

Elephant ( Kambaku's) / Argyle – Argyle Dam.
Elephant ( Breeding Herd) / Vielmieter – Dizzy Drive.
Buffalo ( Dagha Boys) / Peru – Sohobele Dam.
Wilddog ( 10 x pack) / Kings – Cole's Plains.
Leopard ( Unknown Female) / Java - Java Dam Access.

Daily Synopsis.

Our intentions for morning drive were to first check the North East for any signs of the Jacaranda Pride and Timbavati Female followed by heading South on the Eastern side in search of Zebra and if luck was on our side, signs for the White Lions. Coming up with nothing but a couple of Dagha Boys in the far North East we turned South on the news that tracks for three Lions, more than likely the White Lion sub adults, had been found heading North East. As Herold was on a bit of a reccieof our self-catering camps he dropped Difference off for us so we could follow up. Arriving on scene and inspecting the tracks we were pretty sure we were looking at the White Lion tracks as we had tracks for two young females and the big track of the young male. From the gape of the track it appeared that they were running, initially we thought they may be hunting but while Jacky and Difference followed up on foot and I drove the surrounding area, the tracks continued at speed North covering half a kilometre at a steady trot. I decided to headed further North as I was falling behind the trackers and at this pace we were loosing ground to the Lions. On my search I found the tracks for the Jacaranda Pride and the Timbavati Female, they too appeared to have headed North East during the night. As I followed up I found where they had rested and the cub had played around running backwards and forwards. Things then got interesting as the tracks turned South but this was only for a brief period before they turned back to the North East and continued in that direction, which made sense as last nights wind had blown from the North. Keeping in constant contact with Jacky they had been joined by Petros and were all now heading in my direction. I mentioned to them that I only had the tracks for the adults and cub and there was no sign for the sub adults. Having checked all the areas I could with the vehicle I was then faced with a dilemma! The guys had picked up on a pack of Wilddogs in the South East corner and I could not have been further away. Talking to the trackers we decided that there was not much more that I could do here to help them and that I should try respond to the Wilddogs. Not needing a second invitation I headed South. I also considered me leaving as actually helping and it would be Murphy's Law that the guys would find the Lions when I arrived down South. It normally works that way!

Having travelled from so far we were able to go right into the sighting as everyone else had already visited them. I half expected to find the entire pack fast asleep under the bushes and we were going to view sleeping dogs, a favourite of mine next to sleeping cats! We were to be pleasantly surprised with all the dogs resting in the shade but instead of sleeping they were heads up and attentive. They even stood and shuffled around some stopping to groom one another while others whimpered for the same attention. We stuck around until they all got comfortable and settled in for their afternoon nap. We were also waiting on Herold to arrive who had bumped into Ntombi on the way and thus delayed his arrival. You can't exactly drive past a relaxed Leopard sitting in a tree without stopping, what would she think!

Our journey North was long as the temperature had now climbed substantially. I contacted Jacky, Difference and Petros to get a progress report. They informed me of the exciting news that they had found where the Jacaranda Pride, Timbavati Female and the sub adult White Lions had come together. They apparently all reunited in a riverbed before turning to the East and continued on their journey together. It explains why the sub adults had run for such a long distance, they must have got wind of their parents or heard their call. The trackers continued to follow up on the tracks but they unfortunately crossed out of our traversing area and we were unable to definitely confirm what the tracks indicate. So although it was a little disappointing we are pretty confident that they have reunited which is amazing news and we look forward to seeing them as a united pride. Well all most, there is still one Timbavati female missing but we believe she may be mating with the Maghlatini's further North and once she is done there she will seek out her pride once more.

I wonder what this afternoon holds!

Receiving new guests in the afternoon the whole process started once again. With the mercury topping out this afternoon well into the thirty's the only place to be was along water. We were not to be disappointed with plenty of general game in and around the dams of Argyle and Sohobele. So much so that it hindered our plans to head South for the Wilddogs, that and a Buffalo on Sohobele Dam wall that we had to reroute for cost us our sighting of the dogs, but we will get to that later. Had we known beforehand we would have never left Argyle Dam as while we sat there we encountered: Impala, Waterbuck, Kudu, Steenbok, Giraffe, Hippo, Crocodile and Elephant.

Spending time with each of these we then made our way to Sohobele Dam where we encountered the Dagha Boys while sitting on the dam wall. Unfortunately one of them chose to join us on the dam wall and blocked us from crossing. We therefore had to reroute and head to the East and then South which ate into our time. 

With my guests having specifically asked to see Elephant I joined Chad with a breeding herd on our way to the dogs. While with them the sun began to relent and we received news that the dogs had become mobile, this was a good thing as it is always nice to see them active but unfortunately they ran off into the Tsharalumi River and it was extremely difficult to follow them. Both Chad and myself only had brief glimpses of them as they ran off and chased everything they came across. Although it was not a great sighting for pictures it was great to see them in action and our guests got to see why they are the most successful hunters. With the terrain only getting worse and the light fading we lost them as they once again ran off in pursuit of some Impala that took them beyond the horizon and out of sight.

After sundowners our drive was a very quiet one and the only person that had a little joy was Herold. He had found himself a young female Leopard near Java which he was able to follow for a while until it got wind of them and disappeared into the bush.

I guess tomorrow has now become a busy day for Chad and myself, with both of us needing something with sharp claws and teeth!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

26th September: Airstrips.

Pic of the Day.
Morning Drive.

( Herold & Grant.)

Lion ( 2 x Jacaranda Females & Cub + Timbavati Female) / Motswari – Motswari Airstrip.
Elephant ( Breeding Herd) / Mbali – Western Cutline.
Leopard ( Mbali) / Mbali – Woza Woza Cutline.
Buffalo ( Dagha Boy) / Peru – Lily Pan Rd.
Buffalo ( Dagha Boys) / Motswari – Motswari Airstrip.
Rhino ( Rose & Maria + Unknown Male)

Afternoon Drive.

Elephant ( Kambaku's) / Peru – Long Rd.
Elephant ( Breeding Herd) / Java – Java Airstrip.
Rhino ( Rose & Maria + Unknown Male)

Daily Synopsis.

Waking to our first crystal clear day in a over a week and not a breath of wind to add to it, our expectations for morning drive were high. As we got an earlier start than Herold we decided to head to the North and check the area around Vyeboom Dam. Along the way we heard Herold get mobile and it was not long before he contacted to let me know that if we wanted to see Lions we should turn around and head back to Motswari Airstrip. Clearly the pride had chosen to sleep off their indigestion in the riverbed and only got mobile once the sun had come up. We were very keen to see the Lions specially as the young cub was travelling with them and had not be stashed away in the thick vegetation of the Sohobele riverbed. First though, we had to follow up on a drag mark that we came across at about the same time Herold contacted us. Jacky and I went on to foot and after assessing the tracks we decided that it had been dragged to the North. Judging from the size of the drag mark we knew that we were looking at something Impala size, this was later confirmed when we found the light fawn coloured hair for an Impala. We were not the only one's following the tracks as we also found Hyena tracks on top of the drag mark. We followed the drag mark a considerable distance that lead us to believe it was a male Leopard we were following. Unfortunately we had to suspend our tracking as we followed it so far that it crossed our Northern boundary into Ingwelala. A little frustrating as we don't actually know how the story ended, did the hyena catch up and steal the kill or did the Leopard manage to hoist it to safety.

After missing out on the drag mark we decided that spending some quality time with the Lions and their cub would be the best thing to raise the spirits of all aboard. With the sighting not drawing much attention we were able to spend considerable time with them as they slowly made their way to the North East. The course they are heading will take them back to their core territory, unfortunately once again out of ours. As we watched the cub tried to rope all the adults in to playing along in it's games of stalk and pounce with mixed results. Mom showed the most patience and would partake here and there, she also tried to get her sister involved but that was very short lived.

Having had a great sighting we decided to head off in search of other wonders. Hearing that they had Rhino in the West we turned in their general direction undecided whether we would or wouldn't respond. As if to help us make that decision Mbali popped up alongside the road. It must have been fate that we would find a Leopard this morning and who better than my favourite the old lady herself! She was casually walking alongside a drainage line marking her territory, which by the looks of things is extremely big. Her teats are still swollen and the tell tale signs of matted hair lead us to believe she still has cubs stashed away some where. Chad believes we will find these when he heads on leave on Wednesday, lets hope so! As she entered hunt mode we took the opportunity to leave her having had a great sighting.

Still drifting West and having finished coffee with time to spare we decided to head to the area they had the Rhino and try our luck. We were once again not to be disappointed and we found the three of them happily feeding in the area they had been left.

Herold chose to rather visit a nice breeding herd of Elephant with many young and will follow up on the Rhino this afternoon. He also found himself a couple of Buffalo before closing down at camp. So this afternoon looks like we will be swapping objectives with us wanting to find Elephant and Buffalo.

Our afternoon got off to a great start as a couple of Buffalo lazed about in the riverbed in front of the lodge while our guest ate lunch thus reducing our afternoons task to finding a breeding herd of Elephant. With the increase in temperature we fancied our chances along the Tsharalumi River, it was also the direction that that the herds were heading during morning drive. Being in no rush we took it nice and easy checking the area around the lodge where we found ourselves a nice herd of Kudu and a large herd of Giraffe that had themselves spread out feeding along the Sohobele River. Keeping to the river we checked both Argyle and Sohobele Dams where we found ourselves a nice group of Elephant Bulls and the ever reliable Crocodile that rests on the island in Sohobele Dam.

Leaving the water our drive took on more of a birding expedition with us finding a nice pair of Tawny Eagles and shortly after a Walhbergs Eagle. It was nice to see the two one after the other as it highlighted the difference's between the two very nicely.

While we made our way South along the Tsharalumi Herold headed out West in search of his Rhino. He was lucky as another station managed to relocate on the three Rhino from the morning and he could take things as they came as he knew what he was looking for had been found.

We had to wait a little longer and it was only when the staff at Java, our self catering camp, radioed in that they had a big herd of Elephant drinking at the trough at the camp, that we could accelerate our arrival to that area. We arrived at the perfect time, the sun was slowly sinking below the horizon and the Elephant were moving through a relatively open area parallel to the airstrip. With only one other station responding we were able to spend the rest of our drive with them and effectively became a herd member for about an hour or so!

We chose Java airstrip for our evenings sundowner it seemed fitting as the airstrips had yielded so much for us today!