A Week of Winter Chill in Photos

A week later and the leg pains from the Timbavati Traverse eventually subsided, but I think that was mostly because the cold front that followed the heat of the previous weekend left my legs so numb I couldn’t feel anything. Looking at the forecasts for Monday’s weather on a warm Sunday afternoon, no one could believe that it could get so chilly 12 hours later… we should have believed the weatherman. The cold front brought snow to Johannesburg – something the city hasn’t seen since 2012 – and continued to deliver snow to the high-lying areas of Mpumalanga and Limpopo, even going as far as dropping snowflakes on the top of Mariepskop (the tallest point on the mountain range we can see from Tanda Tula a mere 40 miles away)! It was not enough to settle, but it went some way to explaining why I didn’t take my thick jacket off for four days. We even received intermittent rain at the beginning of the week, and suddenly our decision to put fireplaces in the new Safari Suites at Tanda Tula Safari Camp was well vindicated.

I would be lying if I said that the animals enjoyed the change in weather; like us, they feel the cold and wet too, and it did make for some challenging conditions out there, but we pushed on and ended up with some good sightings despite the inclement weather. The rain on Monday morning meant that when we picked up lion tracks, we could tell they were fresh, and began following. After climbing out to see where the tracks for one male had left the road towards the Machaton riverbed, we saw his point of departure and turned to go back to the Land Cruiser 80m down the road. With my legs feeling better already, and keen to find the lion before he crossed our northern boundary (well, that and I was missing my heater in the vehicle), I decided to and back to the vehicle quickly and took a little jog down the road, calling to Glen that “my legs are better”…all I got in response was laughter, and Glen trying to utter the words “do you know he is watching you”…hidden in the wet grass 40m from the road was the head of a miserable looking Vuyela male lion watching me run down the road… fortunately he didn’t think I looked like a limping impala and did nothing more than watch me. That afternoon this male plus two of his brothers were in the eastern block responding to roars from other lions, towards the Kruger National Park, but despite having missioned in that direction, the trio eventually got up and quietly walked off in the opposite direction. The two other Vuyela males had also heard these roars and were also heading at speed to the east when our guides left them; the next day all five were found in the western block after a night of roaring and scent-marking. We could hear them roaring from camp most nights this week, but they usually headed back north to join the River Pride lionesses around their den site to the north of our concession.

The one day that the pride did spend time in our area, they gave us a great reward instead of their absence; we were following the pride on the ridge behind Safari Camp when we lost them in the thickets; as we were searching, we saw a few wildebeest at the top of the crest, so decided to turn off and see if the lions came this way. Within five minutes the wildebeest went stampeding off into the darkness – our suspicions had been correct. There was a load of trampling hooves and cracking branches before the unmistakable below of an animal in distress echoed across the bush and as we drove off-road, we found two Vuyela males suffocating an unfortunate wildebeest calf. I am not sure if they caught it, or stole it from the lionesses, but as it was a small wildebeest, the lionesses didn’t stand a chance of getting any of it and simply walked off into the darkness, leaving us with a memorable sighting to store in our memory banks.

Other than those lions, the only other tracks we saw were for the Birmingham Breakaway males in the southeastern corner near the Kruger. A few members of the Giraffe Pride were around in the far west, but it was not the busiest week for these apex predators.

On the leopard front, N’weti graced us with her presence one morning as she was on the prowl to feed her growing cubs; Scotch also found a fully mature, and semi-relaxed female in the east. She may be the leopard whose tracks we have been seeing, hoping it was Thumbela. Steven also had a sighting of a young male leopard near Plains Camp in the west one evening.

The wild dogs also gave us a couple of good sightings this week. It was the pack of 18-odd members from the northern Timbavati that had ventured some distance from their den to hunt in our concession; they popped down south twice this week, and although we caught up with them running back to the den the first time, the second sighting provided great excitement as we watched them hunting. They almost chased a male nyala right into our vehicle, and when we caught up with them a few minutes later, some members had caught an impala and were feeding on that, whilst a couple of hundred meters away, we found more members finishing off a steenbuck kill. The pups are still a month or two from being ready to move with the pack, but we look forward to their return.

On the mega-herbivore front, we had a great week of buffalo viewing as a herd of 250-odd buffalos spent the entire week within our concession. It is quite a sight seeing this herd rush towards water in the late morning or early afternoon! The lone buffalo bulls continued to inhabit the areas around camp too. There were some good elephant herds in the eastern sections throughout the week, although they were a little quieter in the west. With the bush slowly drying, we can expect to see more and more herds over the coming weeks and months, and hopefully, they will once again become regular visitors to the waterhole in front of Safari Camp.

Other interesting sightings this week included ostriches, a white (leucistic) red-billed hornbill, good zebra and giraffe herds in the east, hippos sunbathing outside the water, and a warm, glowing sun in the azure-blue skies as the cold front eventually left us!

Next week promises to be a warmer one, so we look forward to seeing what sightings it will bring!

Until next time!