Ngala Safari Lodge – May 2015

As we drove into the Timbavati, we saw warthog, steenbok, impala, buffalo and elelphant. There were also plenty of lilac-breasted rollers and fork-tailed drongos, as well as some white-crowned shrikes.

At Ngala, we made our way to our room (19) to unpack before going for lunch.

Butler: Noel

Lunch: Chicken pie and pastrami roast with salads

Dessert: Fruit salad (J)

Here we meet 30 minutes earlier for tea and go out on game drive (since we have further to drive to get to the main area of the reserve). On our way down to the deck to meet, we saw a female bushbuck with her baby. So sweet!

Night Drive – Wednesday, 6 May

Ranger: Dan

Tracker: Sam

Other Guests on Vehicle: Betsy and Carly (a mother and daughter from the US) and Maureen and Leon (honeymooners from Pretoria, on their first ever safari)

On our way out of the camp towards the airstrip we came across some buffalo wallowing in a very muddy dam. We then made our way towards the area where a pack of wild dogs had been seen earlier in the day, and found some of the wild dogs lying in the bush not too far off the road. A second vehicle overtook us and found some more of them, including a heavily pregnant female (even bigger than the other two we had seen, which is not surprising given that we have subsequently seen on Facebook that she had 17 pups!). We moved off road to view the rest of the wild dogs and then heard that the other vehicle had found an impala hanging in a small maroela tree. We went to follow up and the others found a leopard and started following it. We did the same. It was a young female leopard, sometimes referred to as the Oppie female, but not seen regularly enough to have a name. She kept moving off, deeper into the bush – followed by three vehicles. Eventually the others all went back to the wild dogs, but we persevered and were rewarded with an amazing view of her through some bushes, relaxing on the side of a termite mound.

We then went back to see what had happened with the wild dogs, stopping to see the carcass in the tree. While we were there a hyena came in trying to see how it could claim the impala, but it was out of reach. We came across the wild dog as some of them stopped to drink from a small pan.

After drinks, we made our way slowly back to camp.

Other sightings: Baboons, giraffe, impala, scrub hare

Bird sightings: Cardinal woodpecker, red-billed oxpecker, Swainson’s francolin

Dinner was in the boma.

Starter: Salad, individually tossed by the chef for each person (J)

Dinner: Lamb and trout with cauliflower/broccoli cheese (J) and Lamb and boerewors with roasted pumpkin (T)

Dessert: Bread and butter pudding (delicious!)

We are now exhausted after our long day.

Morning Drive – Thursday, 7 May

We left camp this morning and found two hyenas. We then made our way towards the airstrip where we found a large male rhino. As we drove along, a vehicle ahead of us checked the impala kill, and it was still there but there was no leopard to be found in the area.

We had decided to move further south to look for the Skorro pride of lions. On our way we came across a bull elephant running through the trees. Another vehicle then called in that they had found the dominant male lions, the Phelwane males. There are three of them. The ranger had followed the one running ahead and then lost him in the drainage line. We came across another one in a riverbed and followed it up the bank (it from the river, us from the road!) At the top, we found a second male. We waited for the third one (which we had seen first) and then followed him to see if he would take us to the first male and (hopefully) the pride. We then heard that the first vehicle had seen the pride and we positioned ourselves to watch them walk past. There are four females, two of which have cubs of about 6-7 months old. In total there are 7 cubs. We followed them to a pan where they drank. They all had full bellies except the males (of which there were only two present), and they settled down to sleep off the excess evidenced by the bloated bellies. Eventually the two males settled down near them, but the first male (the one we did not see) had obviously gone to find the kill to see if there was any left for him! We also watched vultures flying overhead in the general direction of where the kill was believed to be.

We eventually made our way out of the area to have drinks. From there our intention was to make the long trek back to camp. We intended to stop and look in on the impala kill again, but we were diverted by a call from yet another vehicle saying that they had found a young male leopard with an impala kill. The area is the territory of the Tegwane female and she has two 2-year old male cubs that are still in the area. The one we saw was the shyer of the two and he is known as two-spot due to his markings. When we saw him he had left his kill and moved across the road to sleep under a thick bush. We watched him for a short while and then went to check on his kill. It was a large male impala and he had hardly eaten anything yet. It was hooked into the lowest part of a tree, in a fork between two trunks, i.e. still half lying on the ground. It was also not very far off the road. We commented on the fact that he had not put it higher up and Dan told us that the mother had herself been left alone when her mother was killed when she was one year old. In turn, she had left her two cubs when they were only a year old and they still had much to learn in terms of preserving their kills.

On our way back to camp we saw a fairly relaxed bull elephant beside the road. But our final destination this morning was not camp, but a full bush breakfast. This is like ones we have done on past trips – all vehicles meet “camp” in the bush and we are served a full breakfast. From there we did make our way back to camp.

Other sightings: Chameleon, impala, steenbok, wildebeest

Bird sightings: Bateleur, brown snake eagle, crested francolin, crested guineafowl, crowned lapwing, grey go-away bird, magpie shrike, Natal spurfowl, red-billed hornbill, white-backed vulture, white-headed vulture, yellow-billed hornbill

We had a restful morning spent reading before making our way to lunch.

Lunch: Roast chicken (both) with salads (J) and risotto (T – even with peas!)

Dessert: Upside down pineapple cake (T) and cheese (J)

Night Drive – Thursday, 7 May

Betsy and Carly had transferred across to Tented Camp so there was now just four of us on the vehicle.

As we left camp we agreed that we should drive past two-spot’s kill to see if it and he were still there. We found the kill and could see that he had eaten some more, but he had still not taken it higher into the tree. We found him below a tree not too far away. As in the morning, he was shy and he hid in densely covered areas.

We then made our way to Clara Dam where the wild dog pack had been found. There are 7 adults and 7 pups from last year. The alpha female really does look ready to pop! The dogs were scattered on the far side of the dam, just below the dam wall as we arrived. We could see hippo in the dam and vultures in a tree – both white-backed and hooded. We made our way across the wall and down onto the “beach” where the dogs were spread out, mainly sleeping. They looked full and had blood on their faces. Another vehicle was already there. They had been sitting enjoying the wild dog sighting.

I commented on the fact that a couple of dogs kept looking up at a tree and that the vultures seemed to be showing interest in the same general direction, which made Dan decided to take a closer look. We moved closer and found that there was a leopard in the tree – definitely not the biggest tree in the area and the leopard did not look too comfortable! It was another young male – one-spot this time, the brother of two-spot. We also noticed the remnants of a male impala kill under a bush beside the tree. We surmised that the wild dog had chased him off his kill and he had climbed the closest handy tree. The wild dog has eaten some of the kill, but not demolished it, obviously being full from a kill of their own. Dan radioed the other vehicle to ask them whether they did not want to see the leopard too!

The leopard looked like he was trying to find a way to climb down and we assumed that he wanted to get into a bigger tree close by. He started making his way down slowly, hit the ground, ran a few steps (in the wrong direction for our assumption) and climbed straight back up the same tree with wild dogs nipping at his heels. Some of the dogs gathered excitedly at the bottom of his tree. The leopard tried to reposition himself and a branch nearly snapped. Dan thought that he had been moving towards the impala carcass which was why he had not moved off to the bigger tree as we had surmised he would. Some of the dogs started playing with the left over impala kill, but eventually the dogs all settled down again. One-spot then made another effort to climb down the tree and he grabbed the carcass and took it back up the same tree! He balanced the kill precariously in some branches and started to feed on what little was left. The wild dogs in the meanwhile were all excited again. When we eventually left the area, the wild dogs were moving away from the tree and he was crunching bones and sinew. What an experience!

We decided that this was a good time to have drinks and we chatted about our amazing drive. We were all happy to make our way home with such an amazing drive behind us. On the way home we came across a spotted eagle owl in the road, much to our delight as owls have been rather scarce this trip. It flew into a tree on the edge of the road and we viewed it for some time. It did not even fly off as we drove away.

As we turned onto the road beside the airstrip, we found that our amazing drive was not over yet – there was a very relaxed African wild cat in the open grass area. We stopped to view it with an infrared light and Dan even radioed it in for other vehicles in the area. In the end, there were four vehicles watching this little cat. Through the binoculars we could see a scrub hare not far off; it was hunkered down with its ears flat against its back. We watched the wild cat look like it was stalking it but it went straight past it in the dark. Everyone put all their lights off and when we looked again, there was no sign of the hare. The wild cat was sitting up looking for it again. We left the cat and finally made our way back into camp. What a night!

Other sightings: Impala, waterbuck

Bird sightings: Blacksmith lapwing, grey hornbill, water thick-knee, white helmet-shrike

Dinner was in the courtyard. The staff suggested that we put our two tables together and we all agreed. We had a lovely dinner.

Starter: Salad Dinner: Prawns

Dessert: Crème caramel

I think we will sleep well after such an adrenaline filled day.

Morning Drive – Friday, 8 May

As we made our way out of camp this morning, we decided to go to the hyena den. It was cool this morning so we expected that they might be more active. We drove along the airstrip and saw a rhino bull as well as a clan of hyenas. We watched them for a while, and then moved on towards the den.

At the den we found one heavily pregnant female and one youngster sleeping on the side of the anthill. The female eventually got up and walked around sniffing. She then made her way to one den entrance and scratched in the dirt. She followed this up with a visit to another entrance then lay down again. Not long after this, a head popped out of the den and a smaller cub appeared. And then an even smaller one came out. Another female also made an appearance before wandering off again. We spent a good time with the cubs and then we “wandered off” too.

We made our way to Clara Dam again. It was much quieter so we had drinks on the dam wall. There were hippo, vultures (hooded and white-backed again), water thick-knees, three-banded plovers and a terrapin. The impala kill was still in the tree, but there was no leopard or wild dogs this time.

After drinks we meandered back to camp looking along the river and stopping in to see what had happened to the young female leopard’s kill. The carcass was on the ground and had been fed on by vultures. We saw some white-backed and white-headed vultures in the trees. There was also a bateleur in a tree.

Other sightings: Elephant, giraffe, impala, kudu, side-striped jackal, waterbuck, wildebeest

Bird sightings: Arrow-marked babblers, double-banded sandgrouse, green-spotted wood-dove, green pigeon, green woodhoopoe,

We had got wet in some light rain on our way back to camp so we went straight to our room to put things down and change our jackets. Breakfast was lovely. Hot coffee for me to warm up! Then the special was sweetcorn fritters with tomato and bacon. I had that while Terry had some fritters with poached eggs on the side.

Despite a good night’s sleep, I can feel that a morning nap is on the cards! After looking at Terry’s photos from the past few days and a nice snooze (J), we went to lunch.

Lunch: Ribs and salads

Dessert: Granadilla tart (nowhere near as nice as Mom’s used to be!)

Night Drive – Friday, 8 May

An impala herd greeted us as we left camp today. They are often the first animals you see on any game drive. We then made our way alongside the airstrip and found four dagga boys (buffalo) drinking from two different pools of water. We then made our way out to the western part of Ngala. The vegetation was much more open than where we had previously been driving.

Just before Big Dam we came across a 40-strong breeding herd of elephants coming up from the dam and moving across an open area and the road to move into a thicker area to feed. At Big Dam itself we found two bateleurs and a lappet-faced vulture preening and drinking on the far side of the dam wall. So we drove across to have a closer look at them. There was also a crocodile on the side of the dam. While we were there, an elephant came down to drink. We also drove past Small Dam, but there was nothing to be seen.

We drove further along and came across another breeding herd of elephants, but they were facing off a male lion. He wasn’t doing anything to interfere with them and he was some way off, but they were making sure that he didn’t get close to their young calves. We made our way to look at the old male lion. He was scarred and had lost part of his mane hair, obviously from a fight. He walked away from the elephants and lay down in the open grass. It made for an interesting sighting – a lion with elephant moving past in the background.

Just before we stopped for drinks, we found yet another, albeit smaller herd of elephants. It is definitely elephant day today!

On our way back we had to drive past the airstrip again. There were plenty of scrub hares dotted around. And then we found our African wild cat, as relaxed as last night. We watched for a while and then saw it crouch, run forward and pounce. It stood up with a field mouse’s body and tail dangling from its mouth. We witnessed a kill – a very unique one!

Other sightings: Chameleon, giraffe, vervet monkeys, warthog, waterbuck

Bird sightings: Blacksmith lapwing, blue waxbill, Burchell’s starling, crested francolin, crowned lapwing, double-banded sandgrouse, red-billed oxpecker, Swainson’s francolin

Dinner was in the boma so Dan joined us and we all sat together.

Dinner: Impala loin and boerewors with vegetables and salad

Dessert: Sticky toffee pudding (T) and coffee (J)

Morning Drive – Saturday, 9 May

This morning was freezing – like winter had just arrived! It made for a slow drive first thing in the morning. We made our way south all wrapped up to keep warm. We saw some general game and did some birding, before we came across a crash of rhino. There was a female, a calf and a big, but young bull. They were very calm even though the bathawk (an anti-poaching flight) was going overhead behind us. While we were with them we heard the male lions roaring.

We made our way into the lion sighting. All three Phelwane males were present – one sleeping along under a tree and the other two cuddled together under another tree. Three of the females were lying in the open area and the cubs were dotted in between – some of them forming a “pile of lion cubs”. The fourth female, a sub-adult, was lying further away on her own. One cub kept trying to suckle from the mothers and being pushed away. The one eventually let him drink for all of about a minute and then almost rolled on top of the cub to move it off. The next female pushed it away with her paw and then reprimanded it with a snarl when it did not give up. The cub realized that it was out of luck so it flopped down into the middle of the “pile”.

Other sightings: Buffalo, impala, kudu, wildebeest

Bird sightings: Barn swallow, Burchell’s starling, Cape turtle dove, crested barbet, crested francolin, green pigeon, hamerkop, lilac-breasted roller, red-billed hornbill, Stierlings wren-warbler (L), Swainson’s francolin, woolly-necked stork, yellow-billed hornbill

We were at breakfast early today as we got back from drive early, but the service was really slow. We watched a Burchell’s starling and some bushbucks while we waited to be served. We both had a cooked breakfast.

While sitting on the bed writing this, the two bushbucks have just walked past our window. The young male even stopped to peep into the room!

Lunch: Roast beef, salads (J) and pasta with vegetables (T)

Dessert: Berry cheesecake (T) and fruit salad (J)

Night Drive – Saturday, 9 May

As we left camp and drove along a road parallel to the airstrip we encountered two elephants eating and a third drinking at a small pan. We went to look for the pack of wild dogs, which had been seen that morning, but we could not find them anywhere. We eventually stopped for drinks, thinking this would be our quietest drive of the trip.

Once it was dark, we started making our way back to camp and our luck changed – two honey badgers (male and female) on the road, walking. They moved into the grass then back onto the road, before finally veering off into the bush. A little further on we found a Verreaux’s eagle owl. Once we got to the airstrip we found that the grass verge had been mowed and, although there were plenty of scrub hares, there was no wild cat to be seen. Instead we saw a herd of buffalo crossing the bottom end of the airstrip and moving northwards.

Other sightings: Dwarf mongoose, grey duiker, impala, waterbuck, wildebeest

Bird sightings: African hoopoe, Burchell’s starling, crested francolin, red-billed hornbill, red-crested korhaan, Swainson’s francolin, yellow-billed hornbill

We are back at camp and our verandah has been set up with lights for dinner a deux.

Starter: Roasted pear, walnut and blue cheese salad

Dinner: Lamb (T) and hake fillet (J)

Dessert: Crème brulee with berry coulis

Morning Drive – Sunday, 10 May

It was cold again this morning and the drive started slowly. We made our way down the centre of the reserve and drove a small section along the river. We found a buffalo. Then we came across a hippo bull in a very small pan. Dan can only assume that he is on the move, looking for a better place and that this was a “layover” for the day.

We then joined a sighting of the Ntsusu leap – a mother leopard with two 1-year old cubs, one male and one female. They were walking in thick grass and bush. The cubs then started to chase something in the thicket. The other vehicle told us that a cane rat run under their vehicle and got away. It was a lovely sighting but we only got good visual in patches (mainly when the cubs came into gaps in the bushes).

We then had to make our way back for bush breakfast. But en route we saw giraffe and zebra at a small watering hole, and then we kept bumping into zebra on our way back!

Other sightings: Baboons, elephant, grey duiker, impala, slender mongoose, wildebeest

Bird sightings: African hawk eagle, bateleur, blue waxbill, brown-hooded parrot, Burchell’s coucal, Natal spurfowl

Once we were back at camp, we packed up and made our way out of the Timbavati to drive around to Orpen gate. Tented camp is less than 30 minutes away but if we had been escorted or transferred across then we would have to come back on Tuesday and do the long Timbavati drive on the day we are driving home. The reason for this is that they have just introduced a rule that says you must leave by the same gate you came in. It just made more sense to do the longer drive today and have a shorter drive out on our last morning.

As we left camp, we saw a buffalo. And on our way out, we saw impala and a dark chanting goshawk. On the main road, we were driving past lots of other reserves and we saw giraffe at two watering holes close to the fences.