Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The day we had a Big 4 sighting...

It all started with a great black rhino sighting on our morning drive. It was a big bull, and he came right up to the vehicle to investigate us. I had to ask him very nicely to move away before switching on the vehicles ignition and getting ready to move off. He kindly obliged and moved off slowly, turning back at us every so often and just to check to see if we were still there. From there, we moved accross to Zen Zulu (our neighbours who we dropped fences with about 4 months ago) where they have these great open plains that the white Rhino love to graze. To our surprise, the open fields were full of Buffalo! There were about 3 different breeding herds and about 200 Buffalo in total, just grazing out in the open along with about 18 white Rhino scattered out amoungst them! After sitting with the Buffalo we moved off and spent some time with Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebeest, and quite a few Warthog with their new little piglets, we called it a day and headed back home to camp. What a busy morning!

That afternoon we headed out again, kind of thinking that the morning drive was pretty much it, and it would be hard to top. My radio cackled to life, and I got a call saying that there were some Elephant out on the open plains where we had seen the buffalo and white Rhino's that morning. Off we went, although I wasn't so convinced we would be able to see them as our breeding herd of Elephant is not the most social and they move pretty fast! Well, we never saw the breeding herd, but we did manage to find a solitary bull Elephant just wondering around seemingly aimless. We caught up to him where he was just standing around in an open field where he promptly fell asleep on his feet without a care in the world! Every now and then he would shift positions and rest a different leg, or flop his big heavy trunk over a tusk. His eyes were closed and I swear if we were any closer we would have been able to hear him snore. After leaving the old guy in his slumber, we went across to the dam where our resident Hippo hang out. In the evenings they are a bit more active than usual, just before they go out grazing. They were playing with each other and chasing each other, and just generally bonding.

On our way home that evening we bought out the spotlights and we did a bit of a night drive hoping to catch a few nocturnal creatures heading out for the night. On the main road, not even a kilometre from camp, one of the guests who was with me asked me to stop because he had seen some eyes. I reversed a bit and shone my spotlight over to where he was shining, and lo and behold, sitting right on the main road was the Little Leopard! We watched her for some time as she moved into a herd of Impala (they knew she was around as they all started alarm calling) and then slumped down into the grass. We pulled up in our vehicles next to her and watched her while she groomed herself and lazed around for a bit. We left her like that and called it an evening - we prefer to leave a sighting the same way as we arrive on the sighting, with as little disturbance to the animals natural behaviour as possible. 
That was the day we had a Big 4 sighting!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Little Leopard and Cheetah Spots

There is a beautiful little Leopard that we have been very lucky to see every now and then. I have mentioned a great sighting we had of it in a previous post, but we have been seeing the little thing a bit more frequently since then.

Dale had a great sighting of her right on the main road one night on his way home, and Isaac managed to find her one night on a game drive.
Isaac left camp one chilly evening at around 8pm with just two guests. They set out and about 2 hours later Isaac radio'd me back at camp to say that he'd found the Leopard. We had a few other people in camp so I loaded everyone up and out we headed to see if we could maybe find it. Unfortunately, the Little Leopard had moved on by the time we got to the place it had been spotted but Isaac said he was really lucky as the guest had found it's eyes with the spotlight and they'd managed to sit with her for about 15 minutes while she relaxed under a tree!


 This is a picture we managed to get of her the last time we saw her on a kill, you can read about that sighting here:

There has also been great excitement on the Cheetah front. I had them up on a ridge, right next to the vehicle where we watched them for a good hour while they marked their territory and lazed around in the sun. It was a coalition of one older male, and one younger male who always hang out together.  They were pretty relaxed and completely unfazed at us being there, so we followed them as they meandered up the ridge, stopping every so often to gaze intently at a nearby Warthog or Impala, but neither one making any serious moves to start stalking. It was such an insanely special sighting that we all had goosebumps on our arms, and I conferred on numerous occassions with my guests about how lucky we were to get the sighting all to ourselves, and have the big cats choose to come so close to the vehicle and allowing us inside their comfort zone! That day for me will never be forgotten, and I hope the guests that shared the experience feel the same.
After 2 days, I came across a dead reedbuck about 2 metres from the road. I stepped out of the vehicle after looking around for a few minutes and was trying to figure out how the animal had died. I couldn't see any flesh wounds and I suspected that the animal had died from natural causes. As I walked over to the carcass, I looked up and not even 3 metres behind the carcass I saw movement in the grass. A Cheetah lifted it's head, and all the hairs down the animals back were raised. A sure sign that this animal was not too happy! I stopped dead in my tracks, and started backing up slowly towards the vehicle. All I kept thinking was how embarrassed I'd be if I were charged by a Cheetah infront of a vehicle full of guests! I turned back to my guests and told them that the Cheetah was nearby but they obvioulsy misheard me as they all started agreeing that yes, the Cheetah killed the Reedbuck. I pointed in the direction of the Cheetah and then all the pieces of the puzzle fell into place for the guests and I heard a unanimous whisper of "There's the Cheetah!"
This time, we presume I had bumped into a lone female who is not in our area too often which makes it a little more special to see...

Friday, November 5, 2010

Rangers Report – October 2010

There must be a very tired Stork somewhere after delivering a few special parcels with us at Rhino River. The babies we have wondering around now include a few new Giraffe, some very little Nyala lambs and a brand new baby White Rhino!

On a game drive recently, I took a route that is not often used and we came across the female white rhino with her new little calf. Very cute little thing, although we are not too sure of its sex yet. It was bouncing around trying to dislodge the Oxpeckers that had taken up residence on its face.
After leaving them, and rounding a corner, one of the guests said that she could see a little something in the bushes next to the vehicle. After catching a glance at the movement under the bush, I realised we were actually watching two young Black Backed Jackal pups and they were just outside their den! Adorable little guys...
Another great sighting was on a routine maintenance drive when I heard something scurrying next to the road. I stopped the vehicle to discover two tiny newborn baby Warthogs that had obviously made their way out of the burrow and couldn’t find their way back in. They were a fair distance from an obviously occupied burrow as there were flies circling the entrance way, I couldn’t leave these little guys to the elements and I decided to intervene. I contacted Dale via radio and he warned me that if the piglets screamed, the mother would not be very happy with me! Warthogs can be quite dangerous and they actually enter their burrows backwards in order to be facing any intruders that might make their way into the burrows. After deliberating for a while I left them to carry on with my work and decided to stop by on my way home again. An hour later, I made my way back to the burrow to discover only one Piglet out in the sun, curled up in a ball. I prodded the little guy to check if it would squeal and after making sure it was relaxed, I picked him up and took him over to the burrow where I gently (and very quietly!) pushed him back in. Unfortunately after searching the bushes quite thoroughly for the second piglet, I had to trust that it had found his own way back in or that Mamma Warthog had come out to get it. 

Oh, and the Cheetah and Leopard have been around...but I wouldn’t want to bore you with that, so I’ll leave it for another post... :)

I have also decided that because we have so many great experiences and sightings and stories to tell, I will be updating the blog more regularly.
Signing off...

Friday, October 15, 2010

Rangers Report – September 2010

So last month ended with a fantastic sighting of a Leopard with an Impala carcass. We were truly spoilt with that sighting and we really couldn’t have asked for anything more, but Mother Nature had another surprise in store for us...

With the traversing that we are doing across Zululand Rhino Reserve, all the rangers from the different lodges have decided that to make sure our guests experience everything the reserve has to offer we will now call in Big 4 sightings or any other sightings that guests may find interesting.
Isaac was out on the morning game drive, when the call came through over the radio that there was a Cheetah kill on our boundary. Off Isaac went and luckily enough he had the sighting to himself as the other game drive vehicles had already driven off. The two male cheetahs had taken down a Kudu ram and were lazily looking on from a shady overhang. They had obviously had their fill. Around the kill the vultures had already settled and were waiting for their opportunity to go ahead and devour what was left. A Marabou stork was also prowling around and snatching up any meat that might have been discarded during the Cheetahs feeding frenzy. What a great experience!

Dale, our Reserve Manager had an interesting find when he came across a massive African Rock python out in the reserve. We have been keeping an eye out for it as pythons of that size are really hard to come by these days what with all the threats they have against them. It seems to have made itself at home in a Warthog burrow right next to our main road and it has been spotted out sunning himself on quite a few occasions.

Back to birding, I had a very strange experience with a Tawny Eagle and a Steenbok. We had stopped off on a ridge to watch the birds flying down below us, when we a Tawny Eagle landed just a few metres away from a Steenbok who was out on an open piece of veld grazing. The Tawny then proceeded to run after the Steenbok and when it was close enough, it would jump up in the air and try and grab the Steenbok with its talons. Well the Steenbok did not seem at all phased about it as they were about the same size. The Steenbok would walk a few paces away and the Tawny would try his luck again running along and jumping up once the Steenbok was close enough. He was obviously convinced about his strategy as he went on to repeat the performance a few times before the Steenbok decided enough was enough and ran away!

Well that’s all until next month, signing off for now...

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rangers Report – August

What a fantastic month for sightings it’s been! The White Rhino have been plentiful, but we are still hoping for those elusive Black Rhino to make themselves seen. Isaac had a sighting of a young black rhino who was previously quite a common sight with us here at Rhino River. It seems like he is still up to his old tricks of coming right up to the vehicle and having a sniff, before trundling back into the bush again. He sure does make for an exciting drive!

Speaking of excitement, we had a camp full of guests and both Isaac and I were out doing drives. Isaac noticed an Impala carcass near one of our waterholes on a morning drive and promised his guests that they would return on the afternoon drive to check if anything had fed off it. During our afternoon drive, Isaac and I agreed that we would meet at the same spot for sundowners. My guests were relaxing around the dam with drinks in their hands when Isaacs vehicle pulled up in a cloud of dust and excitement.” Leopard! Leopard!” they were all shouting. Of course I just had to get in on the action and so Isaac and I chatted about their sighting and he gave me directions to the Impala carcass where it had been spotted. My guests all dropped their half-drunk drinks in haste to jump back on the vehicle and head out.
As we pulled up in the area where the carcass was, I briefed my guests and asked if we could be especially quiet while we pulled up to the carcass. Leopards are notoriously secretive and shy and the best way to approach them is by stealth. Looking towards the right where Isaac told us the carcass was we glanced around looking for any sign of movement and there it was. A beautiful young Leopard sitting on the bank of the river, looking over at us with much curiosity. We had about 3 full minutes with him before he disappeared off into the thicket. Once he had wondered off, the guests and I exhaled in unison. We had all been holding our breath in fear that the slightest noise or cough would chase him off. Well, greed got the better of us and we decided to drive around the block and see if we could possibly be lucky enough to glimpse him again. As we rounded the corner, approaching the carcass, there he was again! Walking along the bank but quickly picking up his pace once he heard our vehicle approaching. We managed to watch him trotting off and realised our ”Leopard Luck” had been used up.

There is plenty more cat excitement for us here at Rhino River, but I’ll save that story for next month...