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A Safari of Returns (part 2): Mashatu, Tuli Block, September 2015


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This is the middle section of my recent trip report http://safaritalk.net/topic/15670-a-safari-of-returns-tswalu-and-welgevonden-south-africa-september-2015/, which had to be done separately, as it is in a different country.


As a recap our itinerary was:


3 nights Ditholo Wildlife Estate, Limpopo, RSA (our friends' lodge)
4 nights Tswalu Kalahari, RSA (31/8/15-4/9/15)
1 night Johannesburg
5 nights Mashatu tented camp, Tuli block, Botswana (5/9/15-10/9/15)
3 nights Makweti, Welgevonden, RSA (10/9/15-13/9/15)
1 night Johannesburg
We had only been to Mashatu a year earlier and we are not usually repeat offenders, but we had such a great time last time, that we had to return. You can read about the 2014 trip here: http://safaritalk.net/topic/13650-mashatu-madnesstuli-tastic-our-first-trip-to-botswana-august-sept-2014/
When we had been in Tswalu, we had seen a cold front approaching from the South and it had taken all four days to arrive. When we left on the Friday morning, there was thick cloud cover, which extended all the way up to Johannesburg. It rained heavily overnight and was raining heavily still as we set off up the N1 north. This continued for about an hour and a half of the journey, making it more tiring than it needed to be. We made good progress and arrived at about 2pm, as planned, despite the terrible condition of the last stretch of the road (potholes). Border formalities were a breeze. Again, we were unable to use the cable car to enter the reserve as the Limpopo had virtually no water in it whatsoever. The level being much lower than the previous year.
As we were a bit earlier than least year, there was time to go to camp and drop off our suitcases before the evening game drive. It was obvious en route that it had rained a lot here also, as there were many deep puddles. The guides had measured 52mm of rain overnight. Unfortunately, given the clay soil, this meant that game was not dependent upon waterholes, which did not bode well for our hide visits, the first of which was booked for the following morning :(
It was quite cool and very overcast. We were in a vehicle with an American couple, who we would share with for our entire stay. We collected another American couple during the drive who would be in another vehicle from the following morning. After being driven up from Sabi Sands, they were looking forward to a nice hot bath. I had to break it to them that there was only an outdoor shower, brrr.
We saw some birds, including some new species, but not great photos, given the light. However, our guide was going somewhere special, he knew something that we didn't - two male lions had taken down an eland.
Given the overcast conditions, monochrome was best.

Not a bad first drive!
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Day 2 "morning drive" elephant hide visit, 6/9/15


Due to the standing water, we thought that our hide visit may be a bust, but what could we do? It turns out we were the only people booked and it was nice to catch up with the photographer/guide, Kyle.


It was still very overcast and was pretty quiet, even for birds, which were one of the highlights last year and one of the main reasons for our return. However, I got some one on one photography tuition and it was a peaceful morning, rather than bumping around on a land cruiser. However, we did see a new bird....no mammals though and definitely no elephants.








a wood sandpiper (our new bird)




Meves's starling




laughing dove




Turtle dove








guinea fowl






Southern grey-headed sparrow




Great sparrows and red-billed queleas




Red-billed oxpecker




Grey lourie




So, not the memory card bashing that we did last year, but what can you do? Certainly not feign illness, like our vehicle mates did, in order to move their visit forwards by a few days....


On the way back to camp, we did have a couple of nice sightings, firstly a brown snake eagle








And then an African harrier-hawk (gymnogene) which was getting harassed by a lilac-breasted roller






















Not bad for a cloudy day!

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@@Tdgraves - Mashatu is at the top of our list for places to visit. I say that a lot each time I read a trip report about somewhere on Safaritalk but Mashatu was on our radar after we kept in touch with an American couple that we met in Mala Mala a few years ago and they were kind enough to share their photographs with us and the landscape alone looks like it is worth a visit.


Yours is another report that makes me want to appreciate birds more than I do and thank you for the roller/gymnogene sequence - amazing that something that small and pretty would get anywhere near something so fierce looking. Not bad for a cloudy day indeed.


I'm a sucker for lions though (I don't have a favorite but if forced I think I would pick them) and that first picture is great. Do you ever wonder to what extent they think and if so what they are thinking about?


Speaking of thinking...I'm thinking of warming up this pot of tea and hitting the biscuit tin as I've just seen a couple more Mashatu trip reports tagged below.


Looking forward to more.


Kind regards



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~ @@Tdgraves


Love, love, love your bird images above!

The Meves's starling is a first for me — never heard of iot.

Thank you!

Tom K.

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@@deano said-

I'm a sucker for lions though (I don't have a favorite but if forced I think I would pick them) and that first picture is great. Do you ever wonder to what extent they think and if so what they are thinking about?


I strongly suspect they think about inviting us down from our vehicle for a charming cup of tea, in a very polite Leslie Phillips/George Sanders kind of voice

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@@Towlersonsafari - yes probably. And then the biggest male lion slaps you down with his paw while doing his best Sid James laugh!


Sorry to hijack the thread. Back to it please...or should I say "Carry On?" (sorry - couldn't resist).

Edited by deano
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And there was me thinking that they just wanted a cuddle.....

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Day 2 Evening drive 6/9/15


Now I am going to blame the horrible head cold that I currently have, however, the intervening 5 months may also have a significant part to play. The two couples mentioned above actually joined on this day. Yet another reason not to delay TRs! The couple we shared with on the first drive were also American and although they had travelled extensively, mainly on medical missions, this was their first trip to Africa. For the remainder of their trip, they would be on a private photographic safari, how to start off in style, eh?


It was still overcast when we left camp.




Sabota lark (new for us)








I think that RIchard had been in communication with the other vehicle (they have headsets, so you do not hear any chatter) as he told us that they had found a leopard. No sooner had he told us this, than we spotted him






He seemed quite shy (what a surprise) and when he slipped into the thick bush, we thought that we had had our sighting and as we descended into a dry river bed, we did not hold out much hope. But when the other vehicle left, he seemed to relax and settled down, in a spot where we could actually see him.














After a while, he decided to move off




and Richard decided to follow, onto some large river rocks. Unfortunately, this was the result....




Ooops! He was able to move it off of the rocks back onto the riverbed and the tracker collected up all of the broken parts :(


They radioed back to camp for a replacement vehicle and as we settled down to wait, a herd of elephant came down to give us some entertainment.








I was engrossed in the elephant "fight" but when Richard said "he's going up", I immediately turned, to see this....














Not the clearest shots in the world, but beggars can't be choosers. He then settled down again.










Wow! He didn't sit for long, but we were not bored waiting for the new vehicle! We all moved over into the new wheels and away we went again!




From the direction we were travelling, I knew where we were going, but I did not ruin the surprise for the new guests. The lions were still on the kill, but it is amazing how much they had eaten in 24 hours. Again it was very cloudy and getting dark.




Scavengers were gathering






























So we had after-sundowners! On the way back to camp we saw an African wild cat (too fast for a photo) and a spring hare :)


Not a bad first drive for the new guests.

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Not bad at all!

Waiting for the new vehicle gave you great views of the leopard (he looks a powerful animal) and of the elephants. Lovely sighting a photos.


Then the lions on the kill - I really like (in particular) the pictures with the jackals waiting....

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Now look here @@Tdgraves we decide to go to the Kruger and then you post splendid photo's of Mashatu and it reminds us how much we enjoyed our time there! really enjoying your trip report!

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Now look here @@Tdgraves we decide to go to the Kruger and then you post splendid photo's of Mashatu and it reminds us how much we enjoyed our time there! really enjoying your trip report!

@@Towlersonsafari wait until you see my Kruger TR.......

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@@Tdgraves. Beautiful lion and leopard pictures! Very special, indeed. Sorry that the hide visit was not the great success you remembered from your first visit.


You did come away with some very interesting bird pictures though. Thanks for posting and looking forward to the rest of your trip report.

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Excellent photos, especially elephant and leopard. Very interested in this particular camp, if you can provide any info about how far you booked in advance, rates/deals, etc, as I see it comprised the longest stop on your itinerary.

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@@Marks we stayed at the tented camp which is smaller, more rustic and also cheaper! The original reason for this choice was the lack of children and wifi! The main camp is very plush with large rooms and space for more guests. This year it is $375 pppn, it was 350 last year. It is charged in US$ as it is Botswana. I did not get any deal, but for the first half of the year they do 4 nights for the price of 3. I think it is the best value safari lodge we have ever been to. I guess the reason for the 5 night stay was that it was so good last year, we wanted to fit in another hide visit and we were only able to get 4 nights in Tswalu. We booked in Feb/March and space was no issue. It is the only place we have been to in Botswana (can't afford the delta just yet), so I have nothing to compare to, but they are really friendly and laid back and it feels like an extended family.

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Now look here @@Tdgraves we decide to go to the Kruger and then you post splendid photo's of Mashatu and it reminds us how much we enjoyed our time there! really enjoying your trip report!

Ps. I thought you were driving through the Kruger to get to Mashatu?? @@Towlersonsafari.....

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Not bad at all! Epic leopard shots, and that's a very bold roller mobbing the snake eagle!

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~ @@Tdgraves


Your on-the-spot conversion of a mechanical problem into a fine leopard photography moment is impressive!

Either that lion was immense or the jackal was tiny, or both.

Your camera's color and lighting settings are nothing less than exemplary.

I love your images, which have a look to which I'm drawn.

Many thanks for all of these!

Tom K.

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What a fine leopard. Quite a heavy weight. Really enjoying your trip report. Thanks ? @@Tdgraves

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We was @@Tdgraves we have just finalised plans don't want to clog up your report so will post elsewhere!

Edited by Towlersonsafari
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@@Tdgraves thanks for another Mashatu TR. That LBR was certainly brave to harass the gymnogene.


Great photos of the lion with eland kill. I see you were guided by Richard once again, how is he doing - I hope that he and his family are keeping well.

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@@Tdgraves thanks for another Mashatu TR. That LBR was certainly brave to harass the gymnogene.


Great photos of the lion with eland kill. I see you were guided by Richard once again, how is he doing - I hope that he and his family are keeping well.


@@Treepol we specifically asked to have Richard as our guide, as he was so good. He is well.

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Day 3 Morning drive, 7/9/15


Our first proper morning drive and Richard was aiming for the cheetah family that we had seen last year as the last time that they were seen, they were very close to the border of the reserve and he was worried that they would leave. This meant a bit of a drive.




Was saw some new birds on the way




Common scimitarbill






Three-banded courser


And we heard ground hornbills, but they would have to wait, because here were the cheetah




The mother and 4 cubs (who we had seen last year with 5) were all settled down, so I got the video camera out. No sooner had we settled in, than three males arrived and caused chaos. They attacked the mother and a couple of the cubs, who looked really shocked. Richard thought that they were trying to drive off the cubs so that she would be receptive to mating.....





















The three males sniffing her urine










As the sun came out, the mother gathered up the cubs and moved off














And then they crossed the boundary of the reserve. Wow! Worth the drive, as they were not to be seen again for the rest of our trip. So now we could go back and find the ground hornbills.








I was watching the ground hornbill making progress left to right and had set up the video camera, mainly to see if I could catch them calling, when something was flushed out of the bushes....an African wildcat! Unfortunately, as I didn't have the camera in my hand, this was the best I could manage. The video also didn't catch it, although it does show a rather shocked hornbill (but I bet the AWC was more shocked!!)




It was time for a coffee break, but this steenbok did not want to move from its' territory




We were off again, and as you can see from the photos, the cold front seemed to have moved on.






I also had a go and doing some motion blur effects (something that is surprisingly hard to practice, given the lack of opportunity)






















Zitting cisticola (new)


Back for breakfast and a debrief

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Wow, what a sighting - Cheetah mayhem! :-)

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How many cheetahs in one view? Splendid sighting indeed!

Edited by Towlersonsafari
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@@Tdgraves - great cat sightings! Lovely photos in challenging conditions - thank you. Is there arecord for the number of cheetah in a single sighting ??

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