This past week was one of those perfect summer weeks; the rains had fallen but moved off and the sun had come out to energize the bush. The bush got greener by the day as the seep lines continued to release water and the entire bush seemed to come to life. It was warm, but not unbearable with most days topping out in the mid-30s.
Following the busy Christmas and New Year period, the camps started to quieten down, and we were no exception here at Tanda Tula Plains Camp where I was the only vehicle out for the four days that I was driving this past week. We also closed the camp so that we could have a belated staff Christmas party before kicking off again next week. Despite being the only vehicle out (which I loved), we were able to still have some fantastic viewing during my four nights of driving guests. I ended off last week’s blog asking if we could make it a hattrick of Super Seven weeks; as you can tell from the cover photo of this blog, we managed to get the most elusive of the seven…but did we get the rest?
Before coming on the drive after a couple of days without guests, I had heard that the Birmingham male lions had killed a zebra very close to Nkhari Homestead, but they had been chased off by two of the Vuyela males. The Sark Breakaway Pride had also been found the day before moving south off of our boundary as they continue to expand their range deeper into the Timbavati, but fortunately, they had returned and were my first port of call upon returning to drive. We spent some time with the four lionesses and their five youngsters but despite being empty-bellied, they didn’t get up to too much. Dale was staying at Nkhari for the night and managed to find the pride in a much fatter state close to Nkhari the next morning, and with the remains of a zebra not far off, we can assume that this is what had filled them up so much. The pride was with two males, and another two were resting off not 200m away. In the afternoon we followed two of the males back to the pride and what a treat it is to see a pride with such strong dominant males and such potential to grow into another super pride. The pride ended up sleeping in the same spot for 36 hours, but after that, they did venture back to the north. These were not the only lions that reunited this week; all six Birmingham Breakaway males were found together for the first time in a couple of months and were not too far from the Sark Pride and the Vuyelas; fortunately, the parties passed within 2km of one another without being aware of the other. On my last drive of the week, I headed to the east for a change of scenery, and got lucky when a portion of the Mayambula Pride was found; it looked like 4-5 females and 9 sub-adults; they too looked as if they had had a meal the night before.
The leopards that were so active last week were a great deal scarcer this week; in fact, I only had one sighting during my days of driving, but it was a surprisingly good one of a usually shy female. It was the same female from the Klaserie that I saw last week, but this time she had a young warthog kill up a tree and allowed us to get right up to her and she didn’t even pay attention to us. She was so unphased by our presence that I almost thought it was Sunset female (it was in her territory, after all), but as she was feeding in the leafy branches of the marula tree, we couldn’t be sure. Only after she had finished up the kill and moved down to groom could we see it was not Sunset. Nyeleti and her cubs had also been around, but we just missed one of them on our trip to the east on the last drive; Nyeleti had killed a bushbuck ram in the middle of the Tanda Tula Safari Camp construction area. We had to move the carcass out into the bush, and she spent two days in the area with one cub before walking off to go and find the other. When we checked the area, we could hear the monkeys and squirrels alarm calling, and tracks on top of the rain that had just fallen told us the one cub was still there, but sadly she eluded us.
We were well treated to good elephant sightings across the week with both the elephant bulls and some small breeding herds making use of the entire reserve. Buffalos though were a different story. We eventually located a single bull in the west enjoying a mud wallow on a warm morning, and then also saw an obstinacy of six bulls in front of Tanda Tula Safari Camp on our morning in the east.
As mentioned – and seen from the first photo – we also got to see cheetahs. My one guest didn’t join us on the last morning when we went east, but we told him that we would let him know if we saw any. Whilst sitting with the Mayambula Pride east of Safari Camp, a guide had a brief sighting of the two dominant male cheetahs on one of the open clearings in the east. Sadly they crossed the Machaton riverbed and couldn’t be followed, but as we were close to the area, we went to check. Fortunately, they are becoming creatures of habit, and after not finding any sign of them on the one clearing, we thought that they would head to an area called Little Serengeti, and sure enough, we found them lying on the road in the middle of the open area! What a great sighting we got to enjoy, but a radio call had to be made to Formen asking him to bring out my guest. We were about to rejoin the sighting later in the morning when the cheetahs ran off after a zebra foal and disappeared, but we were able to relocate on them as they caught their breath before moving back to the open areas.
So, the only member of the Super 7 missing was the wild dogs (we had seen loads of rhinos); fortunately, we were able to get to see a small pack of four dogs during the week – sadly for us the pack had already eaten well the night before and were not in any mood to get active in the morning (or indeed in the afternoon when we found them again in the same spot).
So that is it. Another fantastic week of big game viewing here at Tanda Tula, and it was rounded off by an abundance of zebras, wildebeest, impalas, and giraffes on the plains, as well as a pleasing number of hippos making use of the waterholes in the area. It was a week that reiterated just why I love summer here in the Timbavati.
Be sure to check back next Monday to see if what the bush gives us in the following days.
Until next time, cheers!