Photo of the Day
(Chad and Shadrack)
3 x wild dogs – Scholtz, Mananga Cutline
1 x leopard (Umfana male with impala) – Vielmetter, Entrance Dam
5 x rhinos
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Vielmetter, Vielmetter Access
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Vielmetter, Hide Dam
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Vielmetter, Nyosi River Rd
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Java, Java Access
1 x elephant bull – Vielmetter, Sweetwater Pan
(Chad and Herold)
12 x wild dogs – Scholtz, Mananga Cutline
1 x leopard (Umfana male with impala) – Vielmetter, Entrance Dam
5 x rhinos
1 x breeding herd of elephants – Java, Java-Mbali Rd
1 x breeding herd of buffalo – Motswari, Xinatsi Dam
Having fulfilled my guests’ wishes for lions and elephants yesterday afternoon, they put the ball in my court and asked what I wanted to see today, so I explained my plan to go check an area for rhinos briefly before trying on our hyena den, and then to make our way towards where Nthombi had been yesterday, hoping to tick off their leopard wish (alternatively, they could have stayed with Robert, our other night watchman, after he had twice seen a young male leopard walking along the camp’s pathway last night!). Easy!
It was my first drive on the “winter schedule”, and it was a perfect time to leave camp at 6:30am, and we still got to watch the sun rise as a few impalas showed themselves along the road. Fresh buffalo droppings didn’t turn too much, but when we soon found tracks for a crash of rhinos, Jacky didn’t hesitate to jump off to follow up on foot. As Shadrack had taken a couple of hours to track them in the same area a few days back, I thought Jacky might have his work cut out for him. A bit further along the road I found tracks for where they had been sleeping on the road and headed south, and was about to inform Jacky when he called to tell me that he had already found them...so much for having his work cut out!
With a couple minutes I was back with Jacky, but the rhinos, being skittish, had run off. I was preparing to walk into them when he suggested I try a bit further along the road in the direction that they had run in, and sure enough, about 200m away, I found the five rhinos. Being a thick area, I thought that this would be an awful sighting. I was wrong!
|Crash of rhinos in the thickets|
The herd slowly moved into the open and we enjoyed a view of them at about 40m, and even glimpsed a hyena running past us on the other side before returning our attention to the rhinos. Something then spooked them and they ran off.
I wasn't prepared to drive off-road after them, but I didn’t need to as a short distance away, I found them approaching another road, and once more, they stood and watched me for some time, allowing me to snap up probably my best ever rhino photo!
Shadrack was approaching, and having had a far better view than I expected, I left. I was amazed to hear that a short while later, Shadrack, having actually followed them off-road left them all having fallen asleep about 25m from his vehicle!!! These skittish rhinos are getting relaxed very quickly!
I carried on with my two species on the wish list, and although we saw another hyena along the way, it was a massive herd of elephants that caught our attention. There was a large herd around Java Airstrip, including our crippled calf, but there was audio for others further south, and even more down on Vielmetter – easily over 100 elephants in the area.
It was great morning light and we enjoyed watching them before trying our hyena den – albeit after a stop at some dwarf mongooses that my guests had actually also asked about last night. The hyena den sadly was not active this morning, so we left it in favour of following up on Nthombi.
|Great morning light and autumn colours!|
A tracker from the south had found Rockfig Jnr leopardess too, so I was not too fussed about Nthombi if she wasn't around, as we had a back-up plan! And, as it turned out, we needed it! While Nthombi’s one kill was still around (and survived the Mafikizolo pride walking within 80m of it!), she, sadly was not. I checked the area, but it was exceptionally thick, and she didn’t show herself, but a brave bushbuck ewe did. We opted for coffee at Elephant Dam instead, and then planned for some leopard afterwards.
The familiar pattern started to repeat itself, and sadly the southern stations had no luck finding Rockfig Jnr in a vehicle, so no sighting was ever established, so I tried Nthombi again with no luck. Heading out via Sweetwater, we found another very large herd of elephants, but time was ticking away, so we passed by, and found another elephant at the pan itself.
|Elephant drinking at Sweetwater Pan|
A bit further along we had a nice sighting of a female giraffe and her calf, and some impala drinking at Nkombi Pan before hitting Argyle Rd in the direction of home. It was thus a touch annoying that only then did Shadrack call me to tell me that he had just found the animal I was looking for, a leopard! After having found wild dogs earlier in the drive (but sadly they crossed straight off the property), his luck was better this time and he found Umfana male leopard with an impala kill up a tree at Entrance Dam! I was sadly too far off, but at least it was something for the afternoon!
|Giraffe and calf!|
I didn’t have much luck on the way home, seeing very little besides steenbuck, impala and some more giraffes, but it was still a very pleasant morning.
Still, I didn’t actually care, as my drive out in the east was wonderful, and totally epitomised the reason why we “risk” driving in the east. Firstly, I didn’t see a single impala. But then I also didn’t see another vehicle driving around (until I handed over a sighting to Giyani).
I had a feeling about the wild dogs, and also wanted zebras, so I headed along the Sohebele River, hoping the dogs might turn up there, and its always a potential buffalo spot. Prior to arriving there, we saw two warthogs bums as they ran off, then the bums of a few zebras as they too ran off. It seemed like it would be one of those afternoons, especially as the next zebra herd we saw was also well hidden in thick mopane.
I had literally just mentioned to Jacky that I doubted the
rhinos ever came on the road we were driving on, as I had seen no tracks for
them when we rounded a bend and there stood a crash of rhinos on the road!
|Zebras in a mopane thicket...still loving the colours!|
|Found this herd of rhinos again in the afternoon - pleasant surprise indeed :)|
Once more, these five rhinos astounded me as we viewed them and they stood and watched us, and for the first time, I drove off, leaving them static in the same spot – Herold even got to see them over an hour later!
Following that, the drive quietened down, but as always, the east had that air of anticipation. When we reached our southern boundary, I mentioned to my guests that this was where the wild dogs had been, and that they must keep their eyes peeled for fluffy white tails and big ears, and within a couple of minutes, what appeared on the road in front of us? Fluffy white tails and big ears! We had struck gold and found the whole pack of 12 wild dogs!
|Definitely not the worst traffic jam to be caught up in - 12 wild dogs!!!|
They were getting active and ready to hunt and we spent about half an hour following them as they headed north, deeper into our property. It was a real treat to see them again, as I personally hadn’t seen dogs for some time – in fact, I don’t think I have seen them this year (well, except during the floods when they pitched up at camp).
|Wild dogs on the hunt|
Giyani and Herold came to see them, and it appeared I left at the wrong time, as shortly afterwards, the pack flushed four warthogs from a mound and tried to catch them before they ran into another mound from which the dogs tried to dig them out! It all ended well for the warthogs and the dogs carried on north-west, so there is a good chance we will find them again tomorrow.
I carried on and enjoyed a sundowner before trying for the leopard. Passing the old hyena den near Hide Dam, we found two adult hyenas there, and now wonder if they have not moved den sites again? Will definitely follow up again soon.
|Hyena at a new potential den|
|Umfana male fat and sleepy|
So all in all, it was a really good day, and probably my favourite day of my 5 week cycle, and with one drive left, I hope this good run continues!