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A month at Limpopo-Lipadi

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RedLeopard

This is my first go at a trip report so I hope it’s an enjoyable read (and not too long!). Having said this, it’s not that much of a trip as we stayed in the same place the whole time :-) I've mentioned elsewhere on SafariTalk that I'm a shareholder in Limpopo-Lipadi in the Tuli Block of Botswana and see that there are a few of us here now. Anyway, on with the story of our four weeks on the reserve in late August and September 2011.

 

PART 1

 

Our journey from the UK wasn't quite as smooth as normal with our flight delayed at Manchester meaning a midnight sprint through the airport in Paris to make the connection, but luckily the flight had been held. I can never sleep on planes so was glad of the movies to entertain me all night (if you want something quirky but funny then try Cedar Rapids!) and as morning broke we were closing in on Johannesburg. Unfortunately on arrival we discovered that our bags had failed to make the same midnight sprint as us and were still in Paris! I duly completed the form but wasn't particularly confident the lost baggage people grasped that we would be across an international border, 450km away, by the time they arrived and with no independent transport. Luckily our transfer driver from Waterberg Transfers was ready and waiting for us and we quickly got underway.

 

The journey north was uneventful with a stop in Mokopane to grab some final food shopping (but no fresh fruit or meats due to foot and mouth and fruit fly restrictions in place at the border) and grab a quick Steers burger! Soon we were back underway and driving along the quiet roads of Limpopo Province heading for Martin's Drift (Groblersbrug) border post. Although normally we would aim for the Zanzibar crossing, as it is quite literally next to the reserve, at that time it was closed for repairs to the concrete causeway across the Limpopo River plus with our flight delays we would not have made it before it closed at 4pm.

 

The crossing at Martin's Drift was quick and we were soon turning on to the sand road that runs roughly parallel to the border on the Botswana side and driving east. By now the sun was starting to drop towards the horizon as we counted down the kilometres to the place we feel is almost a spiritual home! We arrived soon after dark, excited to once again turn south off the sand road and head down towards the Limpopo and River Camp. After unloading our rather limited luggage from the car we whipped up a quick dinner for ourselves and the driver before crashing into bed already surrounded by the insect and frog chorus from the river.

 

Our home for a month - unit 5 at River Camp:

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We slept soundly only waking once the sun was well risen to find our driver had left for the journey back and the camp was quiet with everyone out on drives. The day was a little overcast and quite breezy so we busied ourselves arranging the kitchen and our food supplies that had been delivered and put away prior to our arrival. The cupboards and pantry shelves were full with four weeks worth of rations and we hoped we'd done the workings out correctly! Luckily with each trip we get better at planning how much of things we'll need and never really run short.

 

The interior of the lodge:

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There were a few other small parties staying at River Camp when we arrived, including Walt and Thea, an American couple we have become good friends with over the times we have shared at the reserve together. Ted, another UK shareholder was also due to arrive in a couple of days. One of the things that most attracted us to Limpopo-Lipadi was the ability to self-guide and mould your own bush experience. The low density means you can often do exactly what you want - no feeling you have to move away from a sighting because the other tourists in the vehicle have already seen that animal or are bored because nothing seems to be going on. Luckily Walt, Thea and Ted all share with us the philosophy that if you are patient and take the time to observe carefully then you will see things. There is no need to go haring around the bush trails in the hope of driving into a sighting - an entire afternoon spent at a waterhole can often be so much more productive. However standing on the banks of the Limpopo in the only set of clothes we had, we had no idea how much this approach would pay off for us in the coming weeks.

 

Limpopo River view from the lodge:

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Warthogs grazing at the lodge:

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After settling in Walt radioed us to see if we fancied joining them on an afternoon drive and of course we did! So at 4.30pm Lucky (a guide I have known for 4 years now) pulled into the driveway in the landcruiser and we jumped on board. Walt suggested heading out to Mogorosi and we happily agreed. Mogorosi is a semi-natural pan on the western side of the reserve that arises along the course of a dry river line. Although elephants pushed over a lot of the mature trees there a number of years ago it remains surrounded by mopane bush and is a busy crossroads for game movements. We were also keen to try out the new viewing hide that has been constructed there in the last year. Driving out takes about 45 minutes if you aren't in a rush and we enjoyed sightings of giraffe, greater kudu, impala, steenbok, warthog, and waterbuck along the way. Arriving at Mogorosi everything was quiet and we got set up in the hide and opened the snacks! The afternoon had stayed breezy and overcast and often this makes the animals a bit more skittish but the evening progressed without anything moving! As it went dark Walt joked that he'd instructed the animals to hide to ensure we didn't see everything all at once! With the light past the point where we could see through binoculars we started to pack up and Lucky went to get the landcruiser which he'd parked a few hundred yards away to avoid its shape and scent putting off the game.

 

We were still getting things together and wrapping up for the chilly drive back to camp when he pulled up outside the hide and we noticed the spotlight flicking about. Emerging from the hide we saw Lucky indicating the bushes just 10m from where we were stood and a young leopard sat looking at us! As it moved round we were able to get into the vehicle and pull forwards to get some nice views of a very relaxed individual just laying on the sand in the pitch black. The drive back to camp added the usual scrub and spring hares and a solitary bat-eared fox. We were off and running!

 

Leopard after dark:

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The next day we decided to have a look at Mbusi waterhole, a place where we had a great afternoon last year with elephant, brown hyena and leopard all following each other within 90 minutes. So with Lucky unavailable we drove ourselves out there. It was even windier than the day before as we arrived and climbed up into the hide that overlooks the huge open space adjacent to the old trough that draws game here from miles around. The animals were clearly still quite nervous in the breezy conditions and although the usual species made some appearances they were quickly spooked. As the morning progressed and we sat there wrapped in blankets against the chilly north-easterly wind something unexpected happened… from nowhere well after 10am a leopard strolled out of the bush to our right.

 

Leopard at Mbusi:

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This one was also evidently not an experienced hunter and after a few poorly timed charges at some warthogs it gave up and settled for a drink from the trough. Then it did something none of us had seen before - jumped up the large apple-leaf tree that sits on the south side of the clearing. No whilst we've all seen leopards in trees before this one was a fair bit higher off the ground than we'd expect them to use. Bizarrely within 20 minutes the waterhole was busier than it had been all morning with some large groups of impala arriving to drink. This seemed to pique the leopard's interest and it moved from a resting position deep within the leafy boughs to an alert posture settled in the fork of the trunk, still a good height off the ground.

 

Leopard amongst the leaves:

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The animals didn't notice any of this and although a solitary female kudu gave a few alarm snorts, presumably catching brief traces of scent on the gusting wind, it was unable to pinpoint where it was coming from and eventually wandered off. The four of us sat in the hide however all knew that it would only be a matter of time before some unsuspecting game walked too close to the tree and so we huddled up against the wind and waited. Over an hour passed before a train of impala appeared from the bush to the south and approached on a collision course… We watched as they came closer and the leopard moved into position, we could just see its nose poking out from behind the trunk and its tail dangling on the other side, blowing in the wind! The impala were still a good distance from the base of the tree when it leapt but their incredibly quick reactions meant that the time it took for the leopard to soar through the air was enough for them to change direction in a panic and elude capture. The leopard hit the sand and literally bounced and impala scattered in all directions, the air filled with alarm calls. The leopard looked around seemingly unsure of what to do next before turning and running full pelt back up the tree - perhaps embarrassed at the missed opportunity! We continued to watch but shivering with cold, and hungry, an hour later we decided to call it a day and chance a walk to the landcruiser parked a short distance away. Driving back we all knew how privileged we had been to witness that series of events together.

 

Luckily I managed to get some decent

.

 

After a brief rest back at camp it was soon time to think about an afternoon drive and we headed up the trail from the lodges debating where to go. We decided that as we'd not seen the leopard catch anything that morning then it may still be in the area feeling hungry, or indeed may have made a kill in the time since we'd left it, and so we pointed the wheels at Mbusi. Driving into the open area there was nothing moving apart from a flock of the ever-present guineafowl bickering with each other near the water. A slender mongoose trotted in to drink from the trough then shortly afterwards we saw another mongoose flying across the ground behind the waterhole in a race for its life. A short distance behind it was none other than the morning's leopard but the mongoose was too quick and a deft turn saw it dive into a hollow log and reach safety. The leopard sat staring at the wood, pawing the open end and looking a bit dejected!

 

Disappointed leopard:

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Perhaps thirsty from the chase it walked over to the trough to drink where bizarrely it seemed to think that it would be able to catch the quelea that were buzzing in a cloud over the water. But no, they were far too cautious and disappeared into the trees before the leopard had one foot placed in their direction.

 

Tree covered in quelea:

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As the light faded and we toasted an incredible first 36 hours the leopard hung around, appearing atop an old ruined cattle dip. The evening gloom was well upon us by the time we heard the foot fall of a solitary eland bull approaching and we were able to make out its shape by the light of the half moon above. What we didn't expect was for our young leopard to stalk round the end of the trough apparently intent on having a go! Luckily stood just 3 or 4 metres away, with the eland still oblivious, the leopard realised the folly in such a plan and turned tail, only to pop up opposite the eland to drink once more. By this time it was time to head back and we warily walked to the landcruiser parked nearby, but the drama wasn't over yet! I can't recall exactly when we noticed there was something odd about the radio aerial but somehow a small bat had managed to impale itself on the tip. Our thoughts were that the fine point flicking about in the air must have a similar echo-location signature to an insect and the bat had homed in on it only to become trapped. Suddenly it's frantic fluttering ripped it free and it plonked onto the bonnet of the vehicle. Wary of being nipped Thea encouraged it to move off and it flew up into the night sky apparently ok after the strange ordeal.

 

Red-billed quelea:

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The next seven days were a bit calmer with plenty of sightings of the usual game including wildebeeste, bushbuck, duiker, eland, giraffe, kudu, impala, gemsbok, red hartebeeste, steenbok, warthog, waterbuck and zebra.

 

Gemsbok:

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Large male kudu:

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Wildebeeste:

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We enjoyed sundowners drinks at Black Rock - a large koppie of very dark rock rising out of the bush like a cruise ship on a flat ocean, and big enough to see on Google Earth. One evening saw us partake in the age-old sport of kudu dung spitting, albeit with giraffe dung as that was what happened to be at hand! It's all down to how long you can suck your piece for!

 

In the middle of the week we decided on a group outing to the eastern side of the reserve to see whether we could locate the elephants as they seemed to be roaming that area. It didn't take too long to locate their tracks heading east but we were always playing catch up. After a mid-morning stop to sit on the koppies overlooking the natural springs with drinks and snacks we turned north, crossed the sand road and entered a section of the reserve we'd not previously visited. The fence-line trail was thick with tracks that we stopped regularly to inspect but none of us were expecting to find the footprints of lions. First there was an old degraded print in the soft sand that made us think, then further up some more convincing tracks. Driving on to Ramekitane waterhole we came across fresh elephant feeding sign and urine puddles still wet on the road but although they had definitely been drinking there they were nowhere to be seen (or heard!). Stretching our legs around the waterhole we found more evidence of lion with a plethora of fresh tracks leading in and out, and importantly overlaying those of the elephant - these were very new! I took the chance to make a plaster cast of one of the better examples and cradled it's soft form all the way back to camp as it dried in the sun.

 

Lion track:

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That afternoon brought a shy brown hyena at Mogorosi and the following night we enjoyed the show put on by the quelea as they came to roost in huge numbers in the reed beds along the Limpopo.

 

View from the river hide:

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Sunset on the Limpopo:

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Fish eagle:

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On the Saturday we spent the morning at Mogorosi in the hide and saw huge numbers of impala come to drink. Accompanying them were lots of kudu, about 40 zebra, good numbers of wildebeeste and 8-10 giraffe.

 

Impala and wildebeeste at Mogorosi:

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Zebra drinking

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One morning we came across a really fresh impala kill, it's eyes still bright and limbs not yet stiffened. The tracks around the barely touched carcass suggested hyena but they are still shy on Limpopo-Lipadi and for one to be about, hunting in daylight, seemed odd. That evening we planned to go back and see what appeared under the cover of darkness. Along the way we stopped in the hide at Mogorosi for sundowners and ended up staying a bit longer than planned as first a brown hyena showed up in the afternoon sunshine, doing a circuit of the waterhole before trundling off east into the dense bush.

 

Sunset at Mogorosi:

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Then a relaxed leopard walked in passing literally underneath us in our raised hide.

 

Relaxed leopard:

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My first sight of it was seeing the characteristic white tail tip flicking in the air through the mesh panel at the bottom of the hide! Heading north to check out the kill from earlier we came across a very calm wild cat that sat unperturbed in the spotlight completely unaware of the scrub hare making a hasty exit just metres away. By the time we arrived the carcass was well eaten and the scene deserted but the distractions en route had been well worth it!

 

African wildcat:

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The next day was pretty quiet albeit with some nice bird life at Old Man's Dam where we could really appreciate the iridescence of the wing markings on a load of emerald spotted wood doves that were feeding in the bushes in front of us. That night on the way back to the lodge we witnessed a meteor falling through the air in front of us, a bright green streak against the night sky somewhere to the east. This is at least the third one witnessed in the area of the reserve in the last year or so - it certainly seems to be a hot spot for them. Another brown hyena made an appearance the next night as it fled from the waterhole right in front of the reserve office and gate to camp as we drive back in after dark. The population of these normally shy animals certainly seems to be on the increase, based on the numbers of sightings at least.

 

Drinking at sunset:

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Making an early start on a Saturday we headed a bit further north than previous drives and nearing Mopane pan came upon a fresh set of drag marks right across the road. A quick exploration of the area led us to the conclusion it was a leopard kill and along with Lucky, who had picked up a big stick, we carefully started to follow the trail through the low vegetation. The trail was easy to follow and the dry bush at this time of year gave us good visibility for safety so we quickly came upon a trampled area underneath a tree littered with tufts of fur. The tracks led on, twisting behind the waterhole and ending under another tree from which was dangling a rather desiccated set of impala remains. We concluded that the kill was 2-3 days old but the fairly fresh blood on parts of the carcass suggested it had been fed on in the last few hours. Further up the road we disturbed a big rock monitor basking in the morning sun but it evidently wasn't fully warmed up given the lethargic manner in which it dragged itself down its termite mound burrow to escape.

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RedLeopard

PART 2

 

Inside the hide at Magermans:

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Impala herd:

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Taking a break in the hide at Magermans waterhole we were able to watch the hunting antics of a pair of gabar goshawks as they swooped and harried a flock of quelea and other small birds. A couple of times one of the hawks perched on the wooden roof beams above the hide just feet from our heads before one finally caught something and retreated to the bushes to a favoured plucking spot to begin feeding.

 

Gabar goshawk:

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This gave me a great opportunity to try stalking closer and I was able to grab a few shots before becoming so entangled in thorn bushes that I couldn't go further.

 

Gabar goshawk feeding:

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By this time the day was hotting up so we decided to head back to camp. We certainly weren't expecting Thea to call out the leopard crossing the road in front of us though! These situations are really where the skill of the guides comes into play as they seem to be able to recall exactly which mopane tree an animal dives behind from amongst the multitude of identical bushes hundreds of metres away! Lucky pulled the vehicle up in exactly the right spot and we gradually all picked out the leopard sat nestled up to a thick trunk staring at us briefly before it turned and ran deeper into the bush.

 

Leopard hiding:

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Lucky later told us that he recognised this particular individual by its behaviour - running for cover but staying fairly close to get a quick view of you before making good its escape. The ability to get to know individual animals like this is one thing I really love about Limpopo-Lipadi as you can take the time to do this, free of the schedules of commercial lodges and the whims of other guests.

 

Lucky:

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That night we took a short scenic drive along the rocky river trail enjoying the views along the Limpopo valley before heading back to Harry's Camp for a bush dinner to celebrate Walt and Thea's anniversary.

 

View from the escarpment:

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Dead tree:

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So we sat there as darkness fell all around enjoying cold wine and beers and finally trying mopane worms - not quite the delicacy they'd been cracked up to be! Nancy had cooked up a delicious dinner on the braai and in the embers of the fire and we were surrounded by the noises of the river as we ate.

 

Me and Helen with mopane worm snack:

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The following morning we found ourselves in the hide at Mogorosi with not much happening when Walt noticed vulture after vulture rapidly descending behind the earthen bank to the south of the waterhole. With no game to disturb we decided to take a short bush walk to see what was going on and so we carefully picked our way between all the fallen branches and dead wood. As soon as we rounded the corner and the vultures caught our movement they were off - the sky almost turning dark with the numbers taking to the air. What was left on the ground when the dust settled was the scattered remnants of a female kudu and a load of tracks that told us a story. The kudu had been chased by the wild dogs from the south and as it reached the transition between earth and more rocky ground had perhaps stumbled or been grabbed. A few steps further and there was more evidence of a struggle and the body of the carcass was just beyond this. The organs had been removed and dragged a short distance away and bits of limbs were scattered around the site. Wild dog tracks covered the area but there was no sign of them remaining. However confirmation that the pack is starting to take bigger prey is further evidence that they are doing well on the reserve and providing well for the pups.

 

Kudu kill:

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The rest of the morning brought several large groups of wildebeeste, innumerable impala coming and going in herds of 60-70 at a time, a few zebra and a dozen or more eland that waded into the middle of the water. The afternoon drive was relatively quiet until we came across a bunch of five bat-eared foxes foraging across the open ground near camp.

 

Wildebeeste and eland at Mogorosi:

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Twenty-four hours later we were heading towards Phofu Dam where a brown-hooded kingfisher perched in full view and went about it's business of “fishing” for insects on the sand below.

 

Brown-hooded kingfisher:

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As we drifted slowly through the waterhole I caught sight of the characteristic outline of a pair wild dog ears poking up above the top of the gully in front of us. Pulling round we found the whole pack scattered across the gully in various stages of sleep! The seven pups were piled up together in two small groups and their mother, Two Spots, not far away. As we sat and watched quietly some of the youngsters roused themselves and decided to come closer to investigate us. The adults watched closely and when a couple of pups looked to be getting too close they gave a quick call and the whole pack came running together in a mass of greetings and that peculiar squeaking sound they make at a kill or when bonding. Driving away a couple of the pups started to follow us down the trail but they soon gave up and lay down again in the soft sand.

 

Wild dogs greeting:

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Not far further along the track we came across very fresh elephant tracks, the wrinkle details crisp inside them and even a puddle of urine that hadn't had time to soak into the dry sand. We followed and arrived opposite the springs but here they just disappeared into the thick reeds and dense trees. After carefully listening to see if we could make out any movements without luck we drove up to Langope office and parked opposite the waterhole to see what would come to drink as the sun set in the western sky. However our only visitors were a troupe of 21 banded mongeese that skirted around us as they went about their evening foraging.

 

Sunset at Langope:

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The following morning we decided that given how close we were the night before it was time for another foray in search of elephants. Joining the river fence south of Phofu Dam we turned east and soon came across three eland bulls running away from us. Not far further on we finally spotted our target - five elephants, including three young bulls, were south of the fence also running east. Eventually we lost contact with them and we turned north back towards the sand road. We hadn't gone far when, turning into a side track, not 50 yards along we saw more elephants, this time a family group feeding in the mopane bush right in front of us.

 

Elephant:

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We recognised the matriarch by her radio collar as she stopped ripping off lengths of bark to watch us closely, wary of our intentions towards her group. However she soon relaxed and went back to feeding with several young calves positioned close by and one occasionally suckling from her teats. Sitting quietly we watched for over half an hour while they slowly grazed their way around us and eventually disappeared into the bush to the west.

 

Elephants:

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Pausing a short distance further on at a huge baobab that must be hundreds, if not thousands, of years old we took stock of a wonderful morning's encounter over a drink and a rusk.

 

Huge baobab (with landcruiser for scale!):

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That afternoon most of the group decided to stay at the lodge due to our extended drive that morning, but ever willing to grab a spot of game viewing Ted and I jumped in one of the land cruisers and meandered out to Mogorosi to see what showed up. With the late departure we didn't arrive there until well after 5pm but settled down into a discussion (in hushed tones) about Africa. The sun was slipping lower in the sky and not much happening when out of the blue somewhere to our left a flock of guineafowl exploded.

 

Watching through the bottom of the hide:

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They were mostly hidden from view to the side of the hide but their continued alarm calls told us something was there, so crouching on the bottom of the hide to peer through the mesh ventilation panels at floor level I peered out in time to see the young leopard now well known to us casually stroll into view!

 

Leopard posing:

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After slumping down behind a nearby log for a bit it got up and made its way down to the water again walking virtually underneath us in doing so before posing beautifully on some deadwood right in front of the hide. After a quick drink the leopard made run after run at sand grouse and crested francolins but without success then settled into a dusty hollow to wait in ambush for anything else coming to drink. It was there that we left it and returned to camp and many disbelieving ears!

 

Leopard hunting sand grouse:

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The next afternoon was the last chance for Walt and Thea’s friends, Patty and Chris, to enjoy a drive on the reserve and maybe even get a good leopard sighting (so far they’d only seen the one at the roadside that bolted quickly). Deciding that it would be nice to drive out to Lipadi Hill (known affectionately as “the mountain”) we took a meandering route through mopane woodland and then followed the path of the Langope River before cutting across towards the hill. Turning onto the track running around the base of the hill I was sure we passed some fresh looking leopard scat and it wasn’t long before we sighted some very fresh tracks in the sand. They were heading the same way as us and sure enough as Lucky pulled the landcruiser into the clearing below the sundowners spot the tracks were all around! Checking the area carefully Lucky decided it was safe to clamber up the rocky slope to the usual place – a cluster of huge boulders on the very western tip of the hill that have panoramic views across the bush.

 

Sunset over the rocks on Lipadi Hill:

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Here we sat with cold drinks and snacks enjoying the sun dipping towards the horizon and the sounds of jackals calling to the north. The usual elephant shrew darted around in the crevices between the rocks looking for crumbs. We’d been there about 20 minutes when out of nowhere there were a couple of loud snarls nearby that Lucky told us were those of a leopard. We wondered if perhaps one had made a kill and was having to defend it from the local spotted hyenas. It was now after sundown so we packed up the coolboxes and headed back down to the vehicle to see whether we could locate the leopard. We’d only driven a few hundred metres when Lucky stopped and guided our eyes to a leopard hunched low in the grass on the hillside above us. Using the spotlight by now it wasn’t long until Lucky told us there was a second leopard higher up, although most of us were still struggling to find the first one it was that well hidden!

 

Unimpressed leopard:

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Wondering whether this was a mother and cub we worked out that the inner trail may allow us to get a better view and so we drove back round, bumped over a few boulders and pulled up at right at the edge of the slope. We quickly located the first leopard, which seemed distinctly unimpressed with us! The better view also made it clear that this was a rather large male and after catching sight of the second leopard as it moved it became apparent that this was likely a courting pair – no wonder the male wasn’t pleased with the interruption! It was pitch black by now and being close by we had to frequently check the position of each leopard in case they decided to move nearer. I was lucky to be able to use some rocks on the ground to help steady the camera and get some pictures, which amazingly came out ok despite the slow shutter speed. After watching for a while, during which the female moved lower down the hill, we decided to leave them to it and turned back towards camp.

 

Female leopard:

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We hadn’t gone far when Ted called out he could see the reflection of eyes on the road ahead. Arriving at the spot where they disappeared we panned the spotlight around and located two spotted hyenas on nighttime manoeuvres. Incredibly a short distance further on I heard something rustling as we drove along and looking carefully we found two amorous porcupines! With three “pairs” we were starting to wonder what would happen next! The drive back was less eventful apart from two spring hares and then finally just before camp a pair of bat-eared foxes. Sitting on the banks of the Limpopo River that night we wondered aloud whether a flood was on its way or whether we’d just experienced a bizarre game of safari poker!

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RedLeopard

PART 3

 

The next morning Helen and I decided to drive ourselves and make a early start. We’d not been out that long, but had passed waterbuck and giraffe amongst others, when turning onto one of my favourite trails (that follows the dry bed of the Mogorosi River) I noticed clear tracks from the wild dogs leading ahead of us. Sure enough half a kilometre further on we caught up with the pack as they emerged from the bush, leaping and playing with each other. From their direction we guessed that they were heading to drink at Mogorosi and since they seem to take the most direct route (as opposed to following along the softer but winding road), when they cut off into the bush we sped up to see if we could get ahead of them. Our opportunity came as we turned back onto the line they should have been on at Rock Plate and we reversed back into position with a clear view south along the riverbed. It was then a question of waiting to see if our guess had been correct. Happily we were spot on and soon one, then two, then more dogs emerged round the bend and trotted towards us.

 

Wild dog pack playing:

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The pack continued to play together stirring up dust that glowed in the low morning sunshine. As they approached closer one of the male dogs stopped to eye us carefully before proceeding on. Gradually the whole pack made its way past us, at one point we had a dozen wild dogs clustered around the front of the landcruiser, all within yards of us where we sat transfixed by the whole experience. Another of the males held back, watching us intently until the rest of the pack were clear, then it turned and ran on to catch up with them.

 

Wild dog:

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Pleased with our success we followed at a distance before using another twist in the trail to get ahead yet again, and as we arrived at Mogorosi the dogs were charging across the embankment headed for the water. By now we had radioed Lucky, who was starting out a little later with Walt, Thea and their new arrivals, and he was on his way to join the viewing. As we were the only people out on the entire reserve that day we weren’t worried about it getting too busy and we certainly don’t mind keeping other guests, especially people we know personally who have become good friends, up to date with what is happening and where. We parked the landcruiser about 20 yards from the edge of the water and sat back to watch the dogs drink and splash about. The pups seemed very wary of getting wet but the adult males just dived straight in. Over the course of the next hour we watched them ambush each other numerous times before settling down for a rest – during the earlier encounter we had noted the presence of fresh blood around the necks and jaws of several dogs indicating that they had made a kill that morning.

 

Two Spots with her seven pups:

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Then all of a sudden one of the dogs gave a short yap and the pack gathered before running off into the bush, leaving us alone at the waterhole. Lucky drove over and we chatted excitedly about the day so far, the other party couldn’t believe their luck for a first morning out! Further round the waterhole Lucky drew our attention to an unmissable drag trail and we followed it carefully trying to identify what had made it. Our feeling was that it was a leopard kill but there was no sign of a carcass anywhere. We left the others to watch from the hide and drove on before rejoining the road along the riverbed further south. Proceeding past the point where we had first found the tracks that morning we came upon an impala carcass, a fresh kill that had all the hallmarks of the wild dogs.

 

The following day was quiet – the wind was up and the air chilly so all the animals seemed to be huddled down in thick bush to keep warm or were very skittish if they saw us. Crossing the Middle Plains mid-morning we saw something dash north, disappearing through the fence and into the adjoining woodland. It certainly moved like a cat but we were too far away and the view too brief to really know what it was. In all likelihood it was probably just a vervet monkey – great for causing confusion as they run on the ground – but there were no others in the area at all, so maybe it was a feline after all. Turning back I had literally just said that it hadn’t been a particularly exciting morning when right in front of us a leopard strolled across the Powerline road! We managed to get a bit closer and relocate it, sat by a dead stump watching us, before it turned and ran and was lost from view. We circled the area for a little while but did not manage to catch another glimpse. The location was only about 3km from where we saw another leopard that behaved in exactly the same way, leading us to believe this was the same animal (but unfortunately it was gone too quickly to get any pictures to compare). I guess it just goes to show that no matter how quiet the bush seems to be something can happen literally at any moment! That evening brought a rare view of a foraging aardvark but it too was gone all too quickly into the darkness.

 

Wildebeeste at Mbusi:

P1000594.jpg

 

After a morning in the hide at Mbusi that had brought us large herds of wildebeest (with 60-70 present together), masses of impala, a host of male waterbuck, the usual impala and warthog, steenbok, eland, kudu, zebra and gemsbok, we took an afternoon route to the east following a tip off from the reserve manager. He had come across a herd of elephant that lunchtime heading in the direction of the springs and we figured that they would probably stay there throughout the afternoon heat. Approaching the junction close to the springs Ted and I could immediately hear the cracks and rustles they make when feeding amongst the tall grass and palms.

 

Elephant in the springs:

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Switching off the engine we caught occasional glimpses of a number of different elephants as they slowly grazed south along the river. With binoculars we could make out the collared matriarch we had seen the previous week. With no “big 5” agenda to meet or impatient tourists we were able to just stay parked on the track enjoying the low rumblings and occasional trumpet as the herd stayed in touch with each other while the sun slowly set behind us.

 

Dead wood:

IMG_2449IR.jpg

 

A tall dead tree provided a beautiful photo opportunity in the changing light before out of nowhere a very fat looking leopard just strolled past as if we weren’t there. It cautiously entered the riverine forest – probably not wanting to upset the elephants! An obliging bushbaby sat on an exposed branch for us on the road back to camp giving a great opportunity to see what they really look like.

 

Bushbaby:

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By now the end of our trip was fast approaching but the last three days were just as eventful as the ones that had gone before. We enjoyed a couple of lovely sunsets on the Northern Plains (although the cheetah proved elusive) and watched an African wildcat stalking prey in the morning light.

 

Tawny eagle and baobab at sunset:

IMG_2479.jpg

 

Ted and I spent a full day doing more mapping of the reserve with Koos, one of the maintenance managers. We covered around 200km on new roads exploring parts of the reserve we’d never entered before and massively expanding the log of trails on the GPS. This has been an ongoing project of mine for the last two years and we have very detailed maps of the game drive roads for the western side of the reserve. The new data, once I get a chance to edit it, will add most of the eastern side to this and provide more confidence when exploring these areas alone. Its been extremely interesting (and quite a challenge!) to find a way of translating a set of track logs into meaningful maps that can be viewed online, printed as hard copies, and viewed back on a GPS device.

 

Leopard at Mogorosi:

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But perhaps the best highlights of the last few days were once again the leopards. We had a brief view of one of Mbusi late in the evening as we passed through on our way back from the plains (but now we’re also familiar with the alarm call a jackal makes when one is around). Then the last two afternoons at Mogorosi brought sightings of the same individual, as relaxed as ever and posing in front of the hide in clear view (and great light!). The first of these sightings occurred literally within minutes of us getting into the hide (and I had checked the bushes carefully for dangerous game before exiting the vehicle!).

 

Leopard posing:

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Leopard drinking:

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Final leopard:

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Then before we knew it the final morning arrived and it was time to pack up the storage trunk for another year, say our farewells to staff and friends, pile into the minivan and leave Botswana behind us. Crossing over the Limpopo River we began our re-entry into a faster-paced world full of noise and commotion – stopping in Mokopane for lunch felt like a culture shock after a month in the wilderness. But the journey home was thankfully smooth and then began the post-trip work of photo processing, video editing, map improving, report writing, species-list updating and story-telling to anyone that would listen!

 

Thanks for reading :-)

 

 

Magnus

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JohnR

Thanks for reading :-)

 

It's a pleasure :)

 

Love the leopards and dogs.

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Super LEEDS

Great report and pics!

 

P.S. What happened to your luggage? :D

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twaffle

To spend so long in one spot must be a joy. Great leopard sightings and the video of

the leaping leopard is very spectacular.

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Treepol

Wow, how fantastic to spend one whole month in the Tuli area! Looks like the leopards are doing very well and also some excellent wild dog and rare brown hyena sightings.

 

The beautiful pinkish light in the quelea 'tree' and disappointed leopard photos is magical.

 

Thanks for sharing,

 

 

Pol

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pault

I'll be back for part two and beyond, but part one was very good indeed. It is a very enjoyable read and too long is rarely a problem around here - people can always skip over the boring bits and you will be surprised how interested people are in the smallest details. I really like the panoramas and wish I'd done that - we can really get a feel for the place. Lots of good photos so far and lots of lovely light - I particularly like some of the leopard shots and the quelas, and any shot of an African Wildcat is great and yours is better than "any".

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Kavey

How marvellous to spend so long in one area, and an area you have a personal connection to and have visited regularly over a long time. Wonderful report of your sightings and experiences. Thank you!

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Bugs

That first leopard was quite comical. There seem to be no shortage of leopard - they should call it Leopard Lipadi.

 

Great trip report, and your photos are really good. What lens is that you have in the blind?

 

A month at LL sounds great. I am hoping to make a turn there quite soon.

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RedLeopard

Thanks everyone for the comments, it was fun to go through the memories again while writing it up :-)

 

P.S. What happened to your luggage? :D

 

Luckily Ted was coming up a couple of days later and I managed to get hold of him when he was still in Johannesburg and he brought the bags. The lost baggage people were pretty useless - they'd initially said they'd stick it on a connection to Gaborone and get the SA people there to bring it over and that they had an arrangement with them. Two days later (when I was expecting a call the day before) I had to ring them to be told "they had my bags" like them actually being in JNB was a triumph! All they could offer was to bring them to a border point and since Zanzibar was closed that would mean Platjan or Martin's Drift - a good distance away! Anyway worked out ok in the end, we just washed daily!

 

I really like the panoramas and wish I'd done that

 

Yeah I was really pleased with them too - it was a function on the little compact my wife has that we didn't know about until we got there. It got a lot of use!

 

Great trip report, and your photos are really good. What lens is that you have in the blind?

 

A month at LL sounds great. I am hoping to make a turn there quite soon.

 

Thanks :-) Its a sigma 120-300 f2.8 and looks like I've got the 1.4x attached as well. It might weigh a bit but its worth carrying it around all the time!

 

Looking forward to your impressions of the place and more pictures and stories!

 

As a further instalment withe the trip report done I turned my attention back to the video and edited some of the wild dog footage last night. The

is shorter while the
I decided just to leave exactly as it was shot for a long watch "as it happened".

 

 

Magnus

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Bugs

 

Great trip report, and your photos are really good. What lens is that you have in the blind?

 

A month at LL sounds great. I am hoping to make a turn there quite soon.

 

Thanks :-) Its a sigma 120-300 f2.8 and looks like I've got the 1.4x attached as well. It might weigh a bit but its worth carrying it around all the time!

 

Looking forward to your impressions of the place and more pictures and stories!

 

 

 

I looked long and hard at that sigma lens at one time. It looks a very fine lens, and your photos are great.

 

We have booked in December for a few days and will stay in Unit3. It will be the second time for me, but the first for my wife. Perhaps it will help her understand why I bought the share now. ;)

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Atravelynn

No need for a report to be highly mobile. Staying in one spot can produce some of the most rewarding results, as I am sure you know. I caught the phrase "brown hyena." Can you tell us about that population in the area? Or is it more like a few strays popping up now and then. Beautiful African Wildcat. That bushbaby can't be real! A real showstopper of a photo!

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Sangeeta

I just got caught up with this report. Wow! Those video clips of the dogs are beyond fantastic. Is this the same pack that had the pups earlier this year and reported here? They seem to be thriving. The leaping leopard clip was also incredible.

 

To be able to spend a month in a place like this? Priceless.

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RedLeopard

Thanks Dikdik - hope you have a wonderful time.

 

Atravelynn - I was surprised at the bushbaby too - never seen one sit still that long! In terms of the brown hyena we seem to have a very good population - they are being seen quite frequently now. Last year was the first time anyone saw any (to my knowledge) and we were lucky to see the one, this year and I think we saw 5 in a month and other people had other sightings too during that period. We sited the trail camera at an active den for a time and got some lovely pics confirming a group of four youngsters at that site.

 

Sangeeta - thanks. Yes the video is of the same pack that had pups earlier in the year. It would seem all have survived this far and they are looking really healthy and active.

 

 

Magnus

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Atravelynn

The leopards are gorgeous and seem as if they enjoy being photographed. How exciting the brown hyena are around a lot.

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RedLeopard

Atravelynn - you may be interested in our new website at www.limpopo-lipadi.org

 

You can register and once logged in will be able to view all our trail camera galleries which include a fair few brown and spotted hyena pictures, including those of the pups. Feedback on the new site welcome :-)

 

 

Magnus

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