Welcome to my 2nd newsletter. I hope this one will capture your imagination and get that African bushveld spark lit once more.
The last few months have been very busy, not with my own business (Chris Bates Safaris), but rather with freelance work within some amazing game reserves here in South Africa.
During the month of August, I was fortunate enough to guide for a number of days at Tshukudu Bush Lodge in the Pilanesberg National Park (North West Province). This lodge is a 32 bed lodge situated on a private concession. The benefit of the concession afforded us, as guides, a unique opportunity to show guests some up close and personal sightings of lion, elephant, cheetah and other general game. I too was granted the opportunity to take some of my guests off the vehicle (when there was no dangerous game around) to get on our hands and knees and identify animal tracks. This proved to be a great experience and something I look forward doing with guests of mine in the future. Along with the amazing sightings we had, there was good exercise to be had, what with 132 steps to climb a few times a day when moving from the vehicle to the main lodge. We had one special sighting – witnessing a few lionesses taking a zebra in front of the lodge and later bringing the cubs in to join the feast.
From Tshukudu, I moved on to the Black Rhino Game Reserve to the northern side of Pilanesberg National Park. From the terrain to the birds and vegetation, one would struggle to believe that the two reserves were part of a greater reserve. As I entered the reserve on day one, there was a sweet scent in the air. This was coming from the Shepherds Trees as the spores where being spread far and wide due to pollination.
The reserve is a private one, unavailable to visitors of Pilanesberg, but those staying in Black Rhino are able to traverse in to the public side of Pilanesberg. At the time of my freelancing, Black Rhino was in the grips of a drought and the majority of animals were in the Pilanesberg reserve. There were a few animals that hung around and these animals were viewed almost daily. The 3 cheetah brothers were a special sighting, secretary birds put on some good displays of snake wrangling before eating them piece by piece. There was a special scenario that we witnessed – one evening around 9pm, we came across a female leopard drinking at a waterhole. She was very calm but slowly moved off and in her place came a huge male leopard. The two were courting one another and after a while moved off stealthily into the darkness.
Those were the only 2 I saw saw in the 2 weeks I was there. Next to arrive was a lion pride and a few buffalo, but they disappeared as quickly as they appeared. The bird life was great, sighting lanner falcon, greater kestrel, yellow throated sandgrouse and various other common species.
A week after Black Rhino Game Reserve, I moved on to Marataba Safari Lodge in the beautiful Marakele National Park. I was fortunate to spend 9 amazing days in one of the most beautiful places in South Africa. The wildlife sightings were superb, with daily sightings of lion, elephant, rhino and vultures (which I haven’t seen in months as Pilanesberg doesn’t really get vultures on a regular basis but rather as a rarity).
This reserve boasts a stylish yet elegant lodge set in a beautiful area with views over a plain on to the majestic Waterberg mountain range, where the largest colony of Cape vultures in the world breed on the sheer cliff faces. The lodge boasts 15 well appointed tented rooms, all with splendid views.
One sighting that still brings some excitement, was seeing a pride of 4 lion feasting on 2 adult eland carcasses. The big black maned lion hogged one carcass while the other 3 had to fight for the lions share on the other. Within a matter of days, all that was left was a hardened piece of skin. On the last evening I took my guests on a longer route, deep into the mountains to see a more remote area of the park. We came across a variety of game ranging from rhino (both white and black), brown hyena, general game (wildebeest, impala, zebra, giraffe etc). We stopped for drinks at a waterhole, inhabited by a grumpy hippo which made his presence known by grunts and snorts but allowed the guests to savor their well earned drinks and snacks. There is a special treat that awaited guests. A boat named Miss Molly can be booked for either morning or sundowner trips on the lake. The ride is approximately 2 hours (depending what you see). It affords one up close and personal encounters with wildlife and splendid views.
Further to the guiding, I ventured into the Hoedspruit area near Kruger National Park to meet contacts at a few smaller lodges, Baobab Ridge and Africa on Foot. For the enthusiasts that enjoy walking, both Africa on Foot and Baobab Ridge are perfect for this exciting activity along with Makuleke (Northern Kruger National Park) and birding is truly remarkable in the areas of operation.
Next month (November), I will be going on an orientation course in the Kruger National Park. This will allow me to become an official guide in the Kruger National Park and from there I will be doing the trails assessment to enable me to freelance on walking safaris too.
I am grateful to be in partnership with Mike Condy from Mike Condy Geo Safaris (http://www.mikecondygeosafaris.com). We are working together to enter the market and to offer a variety of bush related experiences while assisting each other where possible.
We are both heading to Selati Game Reserve after doing the Kruger orientation course in November, where we will be engaging in a bush experience as well as furthering our knowledge of wildlife, birding, trees, amphibians, grasses and the night sky. Upon completion, we may look at offering this experience to our clients.
I hope this description of my last few months activities, might just encourage you to venture into the bush.
Another newsletter will be sent out towards the end of the year.
Happy birding and animal viewing.