Thursday, 31 May 2012

30th May – Shaddy’s Spotting Spree!

Photo of the Day
Autumn rhino

Morning Drive

(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

Afternoon Drive

(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

Daily Synopsis

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 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!

Getting much more relaxed these days!
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.

Elephants aplenty

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.

Impala drinking
I threw the ball back to the guests and told them to once more choose their species they wanted, not what I wanted!  They asked for buffalo and off we went; as Shadrack had seen tracks for a small buffalo herd heading to Xinatsi Dam, I started off checking there, but had no luck, and left the was thus a touch frustrating that Herold, leaving late, found them guessed it, Xinatsi Dam!

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.

Zebras in a mopane thicket...still loving the colours!
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! 

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
We soon arrived and found our fat leopard fast asleep up in the weeping boer-bean tree, with the remains of his impala lying in the same tree, but disappointingly, he was in no mood to perform and simply slept off his indigestion!

Umfana male fat and sleepy

We carried on back north and had a good trip back to camp – we passed within metres of a herd of elephants feeding on the side of the road, saw some kudus, a large-spotted genet, a well-spotted chameleon from Jacky, and a bunch of hippos (at a distance) feeding around Argyle Dam.

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!

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

29th May – Nthombi’s Killing Spree!

Photo of the Day
Mafikizolo male lion

Morning Drive


5 x lions (Mafikizolo Pride – 2 males and 3 lionesses) – Vielmetter, Elephant Dam Rd

1 x leopard (Nthombi with 2 impala kills) – Vielmetter, Double Highway

1 x breeding herd of elephants – Vielmetter, Entrance Dam

1 x breeding herd of elephants – Vielmetter, Vielmetter Access

1 x breeding herd of elephants – Jaydee, Nkombi Pan

1 x breeding herd of buffalo – Jaydee, Nkombi Pan

Afternoon Drive

(Chad, Johannes and Shadrack)

5 x lions (Mafikizolo Pride – 2 males and 3 lionesses) – Vielmetter, Elephant Dam Rd

1 x leopard (Nthombi with 2 impala kills) – Vielmetter, Double Highway

1 x breeding herd of elephants – Vielmetter, Back Nines

1 x breeding herd of elephants – Vielmetter, Vielmetter-Java Cutline

1 x breeding herd of elephants – Java, Peter Pan Access

Daily Synopsis

Chatting to Shadrack’s guests at breakfast, it sounded like a good morning, and Shadrack confirmed this for me – he saw lions, leopard, plenty of elephants and a herd of buffalo during the course of the morning, and this was great news for me, as I was joining him on drive this afternoon.

My Dutch family arrived, and I was mildly intimidated that the only place that Ingrid had been before was the impressive Serengeti, but based on her reactions to our first drive, we definitely weren’t outshone in that regard!

We had a pleasing first drive, and took it relatively easy.  I started off as usual heading towards Argyle Dam, and ticked off a lone male giraffe and some impalas along the riverbed, and found our hippos and crocodile quite inactive at the dam itself.

Hippos and impalas at Argyle Dam
I wanted to push south, hoping to follow up on the Mafikizolo Pride that had been seen in the morning, and chose not to head to Nthombi, as she had been found with not one, but two impala kills on the banks of the Nhlaralumi riverbed!  So I risked it and avoided her this afternoon, hoping to have luck instead tomorrow.  Johannes and Shadrack headed for the leopard sighting, and I was then worried that no one would have time to follow up on the lions, but luckily Giyani made quick work of the tracks and found them only a few hundred metres west of where they had been this morning.

This news allowed me to slow down my drive somewhat, as I only wanted to get to the sighting after dark, and I thus aimed in the direction of the new hyena den, but sadly, there was no one home.  Instead, we got to see a nice herd of elephants feeding along the banks of the Machaton river, and many of the young males entertained us by having some quite intense fights in the riverbed.

Young male elephants fighting
The females and calves eventually came down to the river and the young males moved off and played further downstream, some even pausing for a drink from the pools of water, while the females and calves showed us their ingenuity by digging in the sand to gain access to the clearer water that is just below the surface of the sand.

Females and calves arriving to drink and chasing the young males off
Darkness was approaching, and all the game drive vehicles had been through the lion sighting, to I headed over there, and compared to last week, out timing was spot on.  We had no sooner arrived with all the lions started to rouse themselves, and the yawning and grooming soon turned into action.

Mafikizolo male...AWAKE!
At first the now-three lionesses got up and moved off, leaving the very fat-bellied male watching on.  When the young male joined him, they both got up and sauntered off after the lionesses.

We followed behind, but in typical Mafikizolo fashion, the lionesses were not keen on the company and changed course if we jumped ahead of them – we thus stuck with the relaxed male, who clearly was not in the mood to walk, as he lay down every opportunity he got!

Reaying themselves for the night's hunting session

When he eventually moved off to join the lionesses, we left them to their own devices.  It was an encouraging sighting, as even with the addition of another nervous lioness, the pride remained sleeping in the open all afternoon, and maybe they are all eventually getting used to our presence!

Leaving the lions, we bumped into two rather relaxed jackals and spent time with them before moving off past a couple herds of elephants before stopping for a drink in the dark; not ideal, but worth it to see some active lions.

A pleasingly relaxed jackal!

The drive home was very quiet, only seeing a hippo at Java Dam, but it was still a good first drive for my guests, and with a bit of luck, there will be some leopards on show tomorrow morning!

And on a lighter note, go check out: for an interview that I did for one of the local nature magazines...its worth it, as you get to see me wearing a tiara!!!

Dont ask....