Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Fair well to Djuma but not goodbye!

A flower I have not seen before. It looks to be an orchid of sorts.
If anyone can help with the id please do!
Hi everyone!

I finally managed to get out on drive a couple of days ago and yesterday and was hoping to have some pictures of the queen herself, but sadly she is playing hide and seek! Karula and the kids were seen down by room 8 yesterday by the staff, but by the time I could go down and look for them, the royal family of Djuma had vanished! 

Carmine bee-eater.
First time I have seen one at Djuma!
There is some interesting news though I had from a couple of viewers who I joined on drive on Sunday. They saw Xivindzi with her father Yambilu-Jordaan down on the other side of Gowrie dam on Sunday morning! I wonder where Karula and her son were and wish I could have seen them before I left!

The Mluwati viewing from Gowrie Main
I did go and visit the hyena den, but there was no one at home, although Pete says he saw a young hyena close to camp as he came in last night. I think they have been hanging around lately because every so often I find tracks out side on my own beach outside my room! (Oh yes, I forgot to tell you I had a river bed outside my room when I arrived back from all the sand washing through camp!)

The river bed opposite twin dams, it is now a beach! 
The lions have been active lately. We heard a couple of lions calling all through the night last night to the north of camp, who must have been the 2 Nkuhuma females that have been seen over the last couple of days and 8 of the Styx were seen at Arathusa airstrip this morning! Only 4 lionesses remained in the pride after the Majingilanes are thought to have reduced their number for reasons only known to them. I am not sure the how many of the 8 were adults and cubs but it is great to hear they are further north than Mala Mala, which is where they have been for many months now.

The younger of the 2 ladies.
Notice the pink on her nose!
The Nkuhuma ladies were looking well, if not a little scarred, when I saw them Sunday evening. One is extremely pregnant, due to pop very soon! What made the sighting even more wonderful was the approach of 2 rhino (which is why I didn't want to say where we saw the lions!) One of whom was a male we saw from the crash of 6.  The old bull who had what looked to be a very uncomfortable and peculiar swelling between his legs, 
Our bull rhino
I am sure you will remember him if you have met him before! They were extremely weary, which I am not surprised about as one of the tawny cats had just toileted and believe me even I could smell it! 

The elder of the 2 Nkuhuma lionesses
It took a while for the lionesses to notice the onlookers but both parties after checking the other was not going to suddenly charge, were unfazed by the other's presence and the 2 ton heavyweights continued on their way after having a little tiff between themselves, leaving the ladies to doze a while longer!

Female telling our bull to keep his distance!
I did see the Gowrie gang very briefly again. They seem to be keeping a low profile and they are just too quick for me to get a snap shot of them! I did how ever get a nice one of the young giraffe who was out on the open area. I would say roughly around 2 years old. 

I thought I would add a few pictures in to show you the transformation of some of the Mluwati river bed and other areas. Most of the roads are drying out. Tree house dam was unchanged and I have heard Buffleshoek dam is still in tact. I think the most amazing sight is baboon pan which is now being nicknamed baboon dam!

Baboon pan, aka baboon dam!
Notice the road going in!

Phillamon's dip at the pump house.
This is going to be my last blog for a while from Djuma. I do hope to return to check in from time to time on our favourite animals. While I am away I will be handing the reins over to Jaco and Texan and I for one look forward to seeing their blogs. (They have been briefed on who especially you would like to hear about as well as all the goings on in the reserve!) 

Spaghetti junction, looking towards vultures nest.
The tree blocks the road on the left of the frame.
Take care everyone, thank you for reading and until next time, keep smiling, people will wonder what you are up too! I will leave you with one of my favourite moments, not the best picture but to have all the family in one shot was very special! 

From left to right:
Karula, Xivindzi, Xivambalana, Yambilu-Jordaan.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Magnificent trip to Kruger!

Hi everyone!

I couldn't resist writing about the wonderful time I spent with Joe, Penny and her family last week. Thank you Penny for inviting me, I had such a wonderful time with you all! Considering I was only going to stay the night I think we all got more than what we bargained for! 

Young males learning who to fight!
After a leisurely drive along the Orpen road, drinking in the sight of young giraffe learning to spar and a zebra stallion pushing his luck with a mare, I caught sight of the silver bus that would become our game viewer for the next week! 

Judging by her ears being flat,
 I was so surprised the stallion wasn't kicked
Winding our way down to Talamati we didn't see much in the heat of the day, but the afternoon drive brought a huge herd of buffalo who seemed quite relieved the temperatures of the day had finally turned. Sadly we couldn't stick around for long as camp curfew was imminent and in any case we needed to get the fire ready for the braai (Bbq)! 

Now you all know by now how much I love food and I must applaud Penny's husband, Bobby for his talents. The meal was delicious and set the tone for the week and nothing makes an African meal more appealing than hearing lion roaring in the distance as you sit around dancing flames of the bush TV with great company. Pure magic! 

Talamati camp
After spending a night at Talamati, (which got flooded after the rains, so I think it was well planned we stayed there first!!) I was going to drive down as far as lower Sabi and then head home, but as luck would have it my other plans got pushed back a night, so I joined the merry bunch once again, this time as far south of the Kruger as I have ever been, driving over the crocodile river to stay in an apartment just outside the park with a veranda overlooking the expanse of Kruger! 

View down stream, note the tree and a lot of greenery!
View over Kruger, keep in mind how much green you can see! 
I can't lie. I was out like a light as soon as my head hit the pillow that night! It was a full day of driving and game viewing, but well worth it! 

I think the highlights for me were the families of elephant who were enjoying the refreshing water while the youngsters played in mud by one of the picnic sites

and later on a huge bull elephant who I thought for a second was contemplating causing mischief, but instead peacefully came within a couple of meters from where me and Joe were sitting in my little sedan before ambling across the road.

The big bull elephant coming to say hello!
The following day held even more excitement as we were only going to have a short morning drive, but as the day unfolded it turned into an epic adventure and me deciding to delay my departure yet again! 
Yellow-throated long claw, a lifer for me!
The first wonderful sighting began with an eagle eyed spot by Penny's son Gareth, of a young female leopard lounging in the shade. To give you an idea how good, the car a few meters in front of us had driven straight past her!

The view of the leopard as was seen by Penny's son!
We sat with her while the bush began to come alive again with birds chirping, squirrels chattering, and even a monitor lizard hunting in the grass covering the small pan next to us. The tranquility of it all was interrupted with the sight of an impala wondering out into the clearing on the opposite side of the road.

At this stage the impala was directly opposite the leopard!
Immediately our sights returned to see if the leopardess had noticed the situation.....she had! At first she didn't seem too interested but as the other herd members slowly ambled around grazing, inching closer to the road, she changed her mind. By this time other vehicles had joined us.

Our leopard remained still as she watched a few impala venture across the road aiming for the small patch of water, but something spooked them. No alarm was given so I doubt her cover was blown, but they were weary and chose to remain on the other side of the road to where the leopard was observing them. By the look of her she was young, but the way she started to weave around the vegetation as she went into stalk mode, her actions portrayed her to be more mature than we originally thought!

Some vehicles moved on when we lost sight of her, she was clearly waiting for the right opportunity to cross the road undetected. The wind was swirling a bit, but mainly blew from the impala towards the water, so if she kept the road side of the antelope she would be in with a chance.

The tension was mounting when out of the bush popped a giraffe, then another and another, eventually 6 giants stood staring towards the spot we last saw our feline. I thought one of them was going to give her away, but after an extremely long pause, they continued towards the water which was now a few meters behind us. Oddly enough they broke the tension somewhat, when suddenly Penny saw our leopard cross as fast as lighting strikes a good few meters up the road from where we were. The impala remained oblivious of the imminent danger that was lurking ever closer.

The journey of giraffe.
The middle one is looking in the direction of the leopard!
Some of the rams kept looking towards the bushes we saw her take cover in, but still no alarm came. Everyone jump as 2 of the giraffe who were drinking abruptly turned on their heel and took flight down the road behind us, this caused the rest of the journey to immediately bolt down the road after them, leaving the impala bewildered as to what just happened! I have a sneaking suspicion the monitor moving around the undergrowth was responsible for startling them!
All eyes were back on the impala as we tried to guess what she was going to do. We had been with her for over an hour and half now, she was expertly taking her time. The rams who were the closest to where we had last seen her suddenly gave the alarm, everyone went into disarray. Some bounded off, others focused on the callers, but were unsure of what was happening. The rams at the forefront were standing their ground and I don't believe they saw her judging by their reaction. It was as if they were trying to ascertain where she was. 

Common Reedbuck
I think the wind gave her away and with it swirling they may have had difficulty locating where the scent was coming from. Eventually the herd had backed away from the area, the rams finally leaving their post to join the rest of the group. We stayed a bit longer but found no other trace of our spotted feline. As much as it is not nice to see a kill, it is fascinating to see the behaviours from the predator and prey. The balance is such a fine one, one wrong move from either can sway the odds so quickly and I am so amazed the predators catch anything at all!

A few elephant and buffalo later we found ourselves on the cusp of a rain storm scouring the bushes for a glimpse of 2 cheetah who were seen by other vehicles. Just as we thought they might have been spinning us a yarn, the heavens opened and would you believe up popped a cheetah head from where it had been concealed by a small bush! No sooner had one appeared then so did the other! 

Cameras immediately sprung into action. While everyone was trying to get pictures of the elusive cats, Bobby and I were madly trying to click the side window that had popped out, back in place, (a long story but very surreal and funny at the same time!)  Anyway finally the window was set right, the rain stopped pouring in and we could enjoy the cheetah! A short while of snapping away and watching, Gareth piped up and exclaimed there's 3 of them! Of course we all thought he was smoking his socks, we were just seeing 2. Even on the pictures I took I could only see 2! It was only when he showed us a picture he had taken did we see the third! Yep it is safe to say we were eating humble pie for the rest of the day!

Look carefully....
 you will see the third cheetah in the middle of the other 2
We sat with the drenched felines in the hope they would eventually have enough of getting wet and decide to move. As we re positioned ourselves a huge warthog dashed out from nowhere heading straight past the 3 cheetah. Thankfully they didn't give chase, either they were not hungry or they knew he would be too much of a fight. 

Cheetah on the move!
Not long after our heart rates had slowed again, the 3 musketeers decided it was a good time to move and conveniently for us we were on their chosen path! As they approached, they began to split up. One of the boys went behind us the other 2 in front, they had their minds on filling their bellies after all. Taking advantage of the rain which masks their scent to hunt the impala who had been tucked out of sight, minding their own business while all the drama was going on!

A ram was sighted and the hunt was on, the boys gave chase, but none of them seemed to be going flat out. It was a struggle to keep a visual on 1 let alone all 3 as they ran this way and that. The ram was joined by other impala and each time they came into view, the herd had swelled with more members, banding together for safety. 

Impala stampede 
As the rain eased off we regained sight of all 3 predators as they stood watching the 100 strong cluster of impala who were keeping close tabs on the boys whereabouts. It reminded more of sheep dog herding a flock than a hunt.

The boys regrouped as the next heavy down pour arrived, transforming the road into a net work of rivers and mud islands. The prey waited for their adversary's next move, poised to flee at any moment.

Taking their positions again, the boys started to fan out as the impala sprang into action. Just as herd had run passed us, one of the cheetah almost jumped out of skin. Everyone instantaneously stopped dead, as his brother's attention was immediately drawn to him, curios as to what had happened.

Nervously the startled feline glanced over his shoulder, as he did so; his body visibly tensed. Abandoning the hunt he turned on his heel and fled towards us, the other 2 followed his lead, while still confused and trying to spot what had cause the change of heart.

The lioness who disrupted the hunt. 
With the 3 cheetah on our left we looked back to where they had been moments before and it suddenly became clear what had caused the strange reaction, a lioness; stood like royalty observing her subjects!  We hadn't even noticed the rain had ceased or the disappearance of the impala, now it was just the 4 predators eyeing each other across the road and you could cut the tension!

The cheetah of slighter build would be in danger if she attacked, or if there were more of her pride around, but she was lactating, possibly had cubs hidden near by and was more than likely by herself. Under the circumstances I think she too was taking advantage of the rain to hunt the impala but her distant cousins had scuppered her chances! They watched from a safe distance as she lost interested in them and turned heading towards the river...

leaving the smaller cats to breath a sigh of relieve as they too turned tail and sauntered off in the direction of the impala to renew their attacks, but the rain had ended for now, so they contented themselves with checking the road posts for any new information as they patiently waited for the opportune time! 

As they melted into the bush I think it safe to say none of us expected we would have been witness to anything like that. It really does show anything can happen and spending that little extra time can pay off in dividends!

Another big herd of buffalo and a couple of lazy rhino later lazing in the sun. It was hard to believe it was the same day. 

The last of the big 5 that day!
People were looking at us as if we were barmy when we said it had rained so hard! It had been a fantastic day of game viewing, one I will not forget in a hurry that is for sure and I am over the moon I could stay for it!

Plans to leave changed again and I was so pleased I could stay for the duration with everyone and try Joe's recommendation of chicken cooked by sitting it on a can of beer over coals!

Black bellied bustard
I tried to show my appreciation by offering to cook brunch the next day but maybe I should have thought of showing everyone in anther way!! Rumours are true I am not a great cook, but I am learning.... well trying!

Cooking brunch! Well trying!
Over the next couple of days we had some great sightings of frogs 

Bushveld rain frogs mating.
The male is so small he sticks himself to the female.

Juvenile bullfrog.
and birds, 

Scoops owl
Martial Eagle
a couple of which who were lifers for me. 

Red footed falcon, another lifer!
But I think the next highlight was seeing the wild dogs on the 17th. The day the cyclone hit! We hadn't seen much, probably because the animals were seeking higher ground at this stage, but the dogs were soaking wet, all in a ball curled up next to the road! 

A couple of the younger pack members looked agitated and fidgeted so much they unsettled some of the sleeping pups, who eventually woke up and scampered around the vehicles almost like they were children trying to amuse themselves.

Notice all the attention is focused on the central wild dog.
A pack member returned and immediately there was begging. We had heard they had killed twice already, it was clear some of the pack had not had their fill, hence they were unable to settle! 

Finding the adult had nothing to share.
Sadly the adult came back empty, but with noses in the air, scents were caught and in a blink of an eye they were on the move, although it did take fuller individuals a little more time to move their sluggish bodies from it's slumber, eventually there was a line of 15 wild dog trotting down the road. 

Every so often a small handful would dart off following a lead, returning a few minutes later to rejoin the pack.

It seemed spirits were high as the rain fell again, with pups frolicking and chasing as the column of dogs continued at a steady pace. Some of the juveniles missed the change in mood as more of the line stopped to look at the same point in the bush. Someone had a positive trail. Filling into the same spot as the leaders had taken, the dogs that were ahead turned back and took the same path in. In seconds the whole pack had vanished.

Rain was falling heavier, the dogs were hidden, it was time to leave the park. 

Baboons not enjoying the down pour!
What we didn't realise was it was going to be our last drive this holiday. 

White rhino taking it easy a few days before the storm hit!
The dry river beds we had passed on the way in were already filling. The tarmac and dirt roads were becoming streams and muddy rivers themselves in some places. 

 Female Giant Kingfisher taking advantage of the high water.
Even as we crossed the crocodile river to exit the park, we could see it had risen and had become irritated, flowing faster than it had done a few hours earlier. We could see the full extent as we watched trees sail down stream from the apartment. Bands of rain were visible in the distance as they added to the ever swelling might of the river.

Remember the views earlier? The tree on the right?
There was very little water here before!
After 2 days of the storm it is hard to imagine the sun was shining and it was as if nothing had happened. No day visitors were allowed in the park, crocodile bridge was among those that were closed. 

So instead the day was spent relaxing by the lake, enjoying the sun and watching the mini fishing competition between a lightie (young lad) and Gareth!

First time I have had my toe nails painted
and have gone fishing!
It really became apparent what damage had been done on the day we left. The dirt road had been mended but in a couple of areas still not passable. Although there were a couple of Kruger lodges under water and some structural damage, the worst hit was the surrounding areas, especially Hoedspruit. 

Joe, Gareth, Penny, Bobby and me!
The road back into the sands was bad, but it was really the last 5 km that was really bad. I am glad I did a 4x4 course cause I probably wouldn't have made it back in my little sedan!

Nile monitor
Even now most of the roads on Western Gowrie are too wet to drive. I haven't been able to go out and look for any of our WildEarth regulars, but I have heard Shadow/Tingana, Karula's daughter is thought to have given birth just after the rains on Arathusa possibly and some one has seen Karula since the last report of her up on cheetah cutline. I hope to get out before I leave at the end on Jan and give you all an update!

The last thing I would like to let you know before I sign off is the last of the sports equipment has finally been dropped off at the Hananani primary school in Dixie. After 2 months of missing the chance to do it, I was able to drop off the portable goal posts which took a little while to search for and a set of 4 badminton rackets as something a bit different. Everything is being well used I am told, sadly I haven't been able to see the children play in their netball kit but it is great to know it has been worth while doing! Thank you!  

Young vervet monkey